Shelter report: These kids are learning to be still


Following the move from Colorado to Minnesota each year, I make the transition from a homeless service center for adults to a preschool for children staying the a shelter.

This week I made yet another switch, from a morning shift to the afternoon. A friend I’d recruited to replace me Thursday mornings is staying on.

The kids, aged roughly 3 to nearly 5, have been difficult, I’m told. A number of behavior issues. There’s a high proportion of boys, including one still there from the group I worked with before I left.

I’ve always assumed it helps to have men in the classroom as role models, since not all the fathers are with the families in the shelter and the staff is all women, although that’s based on a somewhat flawed gender premise. The female teachers are tougher and professionally better equipped than the male volunteers.

The kids just know we’re the guys who come in one day. Not that one of us was a bond trader/analyst for an investment bank and the other used to own a marketing agency. We met at a golf club. If we are any kind of role models, our former professional lives won’t have much to do with it.

One more difference. The morning shift is much more hyper. The kids have a three-hour series of activities and generally start out with more energy. After lunch, though, there’s a two-hour quiet time, where my job is to help children wind down into nap land and calm any kids who are disturbing the others.

Now I’ll have to be still for two hours. We’re all learning.

Biking in for the first time on my regular commuter route, I was struck by the amount of building that’s begun in Minneapolis since I left last November.

Two buildings destroyed by the tornado that hit the neighborhood exactly two years had finally been cleared—a former day care center and a corner commercial building that had housed a barber shop and apartments above. Three of the four corners of that intersection at Golden Valley Road and Penn Avenue are now empty.

A large apartment building damaged by the storm is still shuttered and the apartments are off the market. A recent national study ranked Minnesota’s housing least affordable in the Midwest.

Last month, a barber shop that had been nicely outfitted after the storm was burned less than three weeks after the owner joined Facebook and posted photos of the interior. Hmmm.

Things are still not looking great for this neighborhood that supplies our shelter with families who can’t find jobs or places they can afford—or places they can afford that are anywhere near their jobs.

Meanwhile, work is proceeding on the Exchange, a big transit hub next to Target Center. Apartments and condos are sprouting throughout downtown, rushing to meet the rental demands of the well-off and upwardly mobile.

Even more exciting development’s on the way. The urban park proposed as part of the new Vikings complex will be right across the street from People Serving People, the shelter where I volunteer.

Well, not quite. The shelter residents’ view will be blocked by the new office tower and residential complex planned for the north edge of the park.

Be still, children. Be still.