At 11:30 a.m., the doors of Peace House locked and a gong sounded, signaling the start of meditation. The topic of the day’s meditation: challenges.
“My challenge is to walk past a liquor store and not go in,” said one man sitting in a chair against the wall.
“My challenge is to keep waking up in the morning and seeing I’m alive,” another woman said.
About 30 to 40 people sat in a large circle around two coffee tables. Tied to one of the tables was a bright green floating balloon in the shape of a turtle. It said, “You’re so special.”
Those who come to Peace House aren’t the only ones facing challenges. Peace House, a homeless day shelter located at 510 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, faces the possibility of having its building bought by developers.
“That whole area of Franklin is being gentrified,” said Peace House coordinator Mary-Anne Bellamy, 63, who has been volunteering at Peace House for about 15 years. “They [developers] are slowly buying up the whole area. They want to make it into apartment buildings because there‘s good property near downtown. But nobody wants a bunch of street people.”
Currently, non-profit developers Central Community Housing Trust and Hope Community have formed a partnership to work on the development called the Franklin-Portland Gateway. They are in discussions with Peace House to buy the small buiding.
“The entire corner–all four corners–of Franklin and Portland are having major community revitalization right now,” said Joanne Kosciolek, vice president of fund development and communications for Central Community Housing Trust. “One of those corners happens to be where Peace House is.”
Kosciolek said the Franklin-Portland Gateway is part of a neighborhood revitalization effort that the community wants to decrease crime activity and the amount of vacant space.
“Driving the redevelopment is the goal to recapitalize the neighborhood,” she said. “Who wants to see empty buildings and empty lots?”
A possible sale of the Peace House building, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., is nothing new. Bellamy said it has been a worry since before Rose Tillemans, founder of Peace House died in 2002. Tillemans, a Catholic nun of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, started Peace House in 1985. According to the Peace House Web site, Peace House made real Tillemans’s dream to open “a violence-free center, a place where people from the streets could find refuge from the storms of poverty, alcoholism and mental illness that swirl around them.”
On average, about 50 people walk through the doors of Peace House each day. Bellamy worries what will happen to them if the building is sold without first finding an alternative location.
“Those are the poor,” she said. “Where are they going to go? The poor will always be with us.”
However, she believes a move is inevitable. “We’ll probably have to get out in the next one to two years because of eminent domain,” Bellamy said. Eminent domain allows the government to take private property for public use, but not without providing compensation. Bellamy added that a bigger house located within six block of the existing Peace House must be found because “that’s where our people are.”
Though Kosciolek did not respond to further calls about whether finding a new location for Peace House was part of negotiations, she said, “We want Peace House to continue its mission and we respect their mission.”
The majority of people who come to Peace House are homeless or live in subsidized housing. Homelessness is not their only challenge. Many also suffer from addiction or mental health issues, said Deb Bauer, 39, another volunteer coordinator. Although drug addiction is prevalant, Peace House requires that everyone be sober when they come to Peace House.
Coming face to face with the struggles of the homeless and the addicted has made Bauer realize that in many ways, she is not unlike them.
“We’re all the same. At the core we’re all human beings,” she said. “We all dream of the same things. We all suffer. Drug addiction and mental issues are felt on all socio-economic levels.”
Besides receiving a hot meal, those who come to Peace House can also receive clothes, hygiene kits and direction to other services. Each day, names are drawn for jobs around Peace House from which people can earn a little money. It is less tangible benefits that keep many people coming back, though.
“For some people, Peace House is their family,” Bauer said. “For others, it is their only social interaction during the day.”
Brenda Overton, 52, comes just to “be amongst people.” She began coming to Peace House about a year ago. Prior to that, she said she was in day-treatment at a local hospital for depression. Describing herself as a “lonely person,” Overton lives alone, which is why she tries to come to Peace House every day.
“It lifts my spirits coming here,” she said. “I go through withdrawal when I don’t come. It makes me feel better being around people.”
Arguments do break out, though they are usually resolved quickly. One recent day, two guests — Jesse and Carmelita — exchanged insults, then stood up and got in each other’s face.
“Let’s take this outside,” said Carmelita, who wore snow pants, a sweatshirt, winter vest and a stocking hat. She had a plastic Rosary around her neck but no shoes, only layers of socks.
“I ain’t never hit a woman,” said Jesse, as he sat down. He then proceeded to reach out and tap Carmelita on her shoulders with a rolled up newspaper.
Almost as quickly as the argument began, it ended. Jesse and Carmelita embraced and laughed, and Carmelita went back to her seat.
This is one reason why Bellamy sees Peace House as more than a shelter, but as a community. In the mosaic mural on the side of the building, the words “A Place to Belong” serve as a reminder of the community that has formed at Peace House.
“Our job is just to foster community,” she said. “It’s a place for people to come and meet, and say, ’I’ve had a really bad day.’ And that’s okay.”
One way Peace House tries to foster community is through its daily meditations. Every day from 11:30 a.m. until 12:45 p.m., the doors to Peace House are locked for those present to talk as a group. They end the discussion by offering up prayers before lining up for lunch. Bauer said Peace House tries to stay away from any specific faith and strives to be inclusive where “all faiths are honored.”
“It’s just a time to find out what’s on the mind of community members,” she said. “Mainly we do discussions. Sometimes it’s on current events, or sometimes a speaker comes. Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth,” she added with a laugh.
Overton finds the meditation times very beneficial. “It’s group therapy,” she said. “The prayers help, too. God answers prayers–he’s answered my prayers.”
One prayer the people of Peace House are waiting to be answered is the one asking for a new home for their community.
“Do we feel that druggies, pimps, and prostitutes don’t have a right to gather? To pray?” Bellamy said. “Sure they do.”