Looking for a place for homelessness to land

May 13, 2019

Dan Fifield is practiced in keeping an eye out for people needing a helping hand.

“I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the underprivileged, the folks that just can’t take care of themselves,” he said.

The former emergency room nurse left his job in November to help people who are homeless in Rochester.

That call, he said, came after he was unable to help a homeless family of five who had no place to turn after twice landing in the emergency room where he worked.

Since then, and throughout the region’s coldest months, he’s met with a host of others struggling to find warmth and shelter.

“We’re getting out in the community and getting to know them, getting to know what they need, not what we think they need,” he said of members of The Landing MN, a nonprofit organization Fifield created with his wife, Holly.

The effort, he said, is slowly attracting like-minded supporters.

Thursday evening, nearly 50 of them met at Hope Summit Church with the hopes of growing the team and forming community partnerships to address concerns and learn about potential solutions.

Steve Frazee, senior program director of Open Door Mission in Omaha, Neb., brought some ideas and personal insights from his experiences in a mission that’s been operating and evolving for 65 years.

One of his first messages was that true homeless numbers are always greater than they appear.

Noting that approximately 65 different people were seen at the Salvation Army’s warming center at one point during the winter, he said many families are doubling up and individuals are finding alternative shelter in unnoticed places.

A count in December indicated nearly 600 households in Olmsted County were facing homelessness or were at risk of losing their homes.

As a result, Frazee said, Rochester needs a solution that goes beyond the homelessness we can already see.

“By the time you get where you are going, you don’t want to be in the past,” he said.

Fifield cited three goals for The Landing’s efforts:

• First is to create a day center where people can seek connections to the services they need.

“It’s a place for them,” he said of his vision, noting that it would provide a space to get some help but also connect with others.

With a couple potential locations in mind, he said rent will cost $2,000 to $3,000 a month. The Landing MN board has indicated it could move forward if it had $50,000 to $60,000 in the bank, he added.

• The second goal is to create a shelter, which would be able to provide a larger space for people needing support on a daily basis throughout the year.

“I think the warming center is a great concept, but it’s not the only concept there is,” he said of the work being done by the city and county to continue the effort started by the Salvation Army.

• The third goal Fifield envisions is creating a self-sustained mini-community to provide added levels of support and help people obtain housing.

He acknowledged every step comes with a growing price tag.

“It boils down to the money,” he said.

Noting he and his wife have given up about $70,000 in annual income to start the process, he said he continues to seek community support.

“I need everyone in this room, and I need everyone in this town to say, ‘You’re right, we can do it,’” he told the nearly 50 area residents gathered at the church Thursday.

Frazee said he believes such support can be found, noting it will require developing a strategy that addresses many concerns, from building a facility that truly meets the needs of the people it serves to showing partners that seemingly diverse agendas share common goals.

He said developing a sincere, unified message that reaches diverse audiences is the key, even though various groups may require different information.

“You need to talk to government one way,” he said. “You need to talk to Mayo Clinic another way, and you need to talk to businesses another way.”

Jeff Matteson, senior pastor of Hope Summit Church and a board member of The Landing MN, said he sees Fifeld’s goal as achievable.

Seeing people exchange information and ideas Thursday night, he encouraged them to bring community contacts to the effort.

“Big ideas find footing when you do things like that,” Matteson said.

Fifield said he and The Landing are ready to take the next step when that footing is found.