Local man on a mission to help the homeless

Tom Feske walking along Lower Landing Park in St. Paul. | Mike Soe / KSTP

“I’ll go back,” Feske told a woman, after talking to her in a camp. ” You are well now ? Alright, be safe, I love you, ”he adds.

In St. Paul’s Lower Landing Park, some live in tents. Others have no shelter at all.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Feske what his biggest worry about the people living in the park is.

“Let them survive the winter,” he replies. “What we are doing, in fact, we are marching in the camps to help people. We specialize with the homeless community. We walk into the camps and find them.

The latest figures from the St. Paul’s Department of Safety and Inspections show that there are 33 homeless residents living in 17 settlements, either outside or under bridges.

But the department says those numbers don’t represent all of the homeless people in the city.

Feske says he’s seeing an increase in the number of people living in settlements – and that his team found more than 75 people last week.

Local man on mission to help the homeless |  Mike Soe / KSTP
Local man on mission to help the homeless | Mike Soe / KSTP

“We were able to get a lot of them last winter because we had the COVID dollars, so they put them in hotels and other places,” he says. “And of course it ends, and so people start to come back.”

Ramsey County officials say they now have 134 shelter rooms at Mary Hall, 70 at Stub Hall at Luther Seminary and 100 rooms at Bethesda Hospital.

A spokesperson said the rented temporary shelters were “essentially at full capacity”.

The county says there are 212 additional shelter beds provided by private and church groups.

Catholic Charities and Union Gospel House are among the organizations providing accommodation.

Feske says that while shelter beds are available, some people don’t want to use them.

“We also have people who just don’t fit that [housing] system – which never got in and they got out constantly, ”he notes.

Homelessness is a statewide problem

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that as of January 2020, nearly 8,000 people were homeless on any given day in Minnesota.

This data was collected just before COVID-19 was declared a national emergency.

According to Feeding America, more than 430,000 Minnesotans battled food insecurity in 2019, which means they lack reliable access to enough affordable nutritious food.

Feske says he’s trying to do his part, reaching out to up to 400 people over the past seven years and providing them with 5,000 meals.

The Feske bus.  |  Mike Soe / KSTP
The Feske bus. | Mike Soe / KSTP

With winter temperatures sometimes plunging well below freezing, he says it’s all about survival and preparation.

“Let me bring you a bag with some food,” he said to someone in the camp.

“Who’s in there?” Feske calls into a tent.

“Do you have a blanket? A voice from inside asks.

“Yes, we have it all,” Feske replies and also offers food.

“We are trying to do what we can for them. Right now we use a lot of hand warmers, ”he explains. “We have a very, very strong group of volunteers coming up. They also serve them turkey dinners and hot chocolate.

Feske, who is 66, also drives a small bus from camp to camp.

Like a Walmart with wheels, it’s full of donated items.

“We cover everything from their clothes, shoes, camping gear, first aid, batteries to candles, just about anything you need to survive the outdoors,” says Feske.

We found Cyretha Bounds on the bus, buying a new pair of shoes.

“Everyone should be thankful because I know I am,” she said. “I think he’s doing very well. I just told him he gives good blessings. Nice and nice boy.”

Cyretha Bounds receives a new pair of shoes.  |  Mike Soe / KSTP
Cyretha Bounds receives a new pair of shoes. | Mike Soe / KSTP

Bounds says she has lived on the streets or in a shelter for the past three years.

For her and others at the camp, facing the weather is a harsh and bitter truth.

“I’m going to be inside,” Bounds said of managing the cold. “If I have a tent, I hope I won’t be inside on my own. I don’t do winters on my own.

Among those who volunteer with Feske is David Doren.

“Yes, I lived in a tent on the river,” he recalls.

Just three years ago, Doren was living in Lower Landing Park, before homeless advocacy group “Settled” rescued him from the cold.

Now he pays forward.

“When I met them it was 40-45 degrees below zero, and they came to put me in a hotel and they have helped me ever since,” says Doren. “I know what it is, so it’s a lot easier for me to help them.”

On this thank you day, Feske and his team are giving back, one person at a time.

Help with hope – and much more.

“These people have a difficult life,” he explains. “The main thing we do is interact with them and that’s important, so they have someone to tell their stories to, someone to listen to them. We are doing what we can. trying to do it week after week is our kind of philosophy.

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