Michelle Reen wasn’t sure if she wanted a dog right after her border collie died. The heartbreak was too much after losing her best friend of 15 years.
But when she stumbled upon Minneapolis Animal Care and Control’s fostering program, she thought she’d dip her toe back into taking care of a pet.
Last year, Reen and her husband, Brad Koehn, fostered pets through MACC, which allows families to take pets for a month, a weekend or even one night. The shelter also has a “Home for the Holidays” program, which encourages fostering during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to help its limited staff.
First, Reen welcomed young Donna, a black pit bull with big eyes. Then there was Zippo, a cattle dog, who had boundless energy even after two walks a day. And then there were others.
“The thing about fostering is every dog is unique and you learn each time,” she said. “It’s like dating. If you’re open to love but you don’t fall in love every time — you’re going to be a good foster.”
All the animals eventually found permanent homes and Reen and Koehn were happy they had helped them on their journeys — providing a safe and quiet home for them to be in while they awaited adoption.
Their lives changed forever after Betty, a 45-pound queen, walked through their front door.
Betty isn’t rambunctious, doesn’t bark much — perfect for the two who work from home — and doesn’t jump. Now, Reen and Koehn are the proud forever parents of the smiley, drooling gray-blue pit bull.
Fostering through MACC gives people the unique opportunity to choose how long they want to foster, Reen said. Plus, the shelter provides families with crates, bedding, treats and food.
“It helps the dogs, it helps us,” said Koehn of the fostering program. “Ultimately, we found the right dog and were able to leave a bunch of dogs better than we found them.”
Fostering interest in fostering
MACC’s foster program began in May 2022 and has so far gotten 750 animals into foster homes, according to Madison Weissenborn, volunteer coordinator and community partnership coordinator at MACC.
This is the shelter’s second year of its “Home for the Holidays” program. Last year, the program had about 30 foster families, some of which ended up being “foster fails,” meaning the foster family loved their animal so much they adopted it.
MACC also allows people to take dogs for a few hours for a walk. It also encourages taking photos of the animals outside of the shelter, like in a home or at the park, which astronomically increases their odds of being adopted
“We had a dog for two months and it wasn’t doing well in the shelter at all. A foster family took them in and we posted a photo of the dog (in their house) and we got 15 calls of people interested in seeing him,” Weissenborn said.
Interest in fostering has decreased as people return to in-person work. However, animal surrenders continue to rise to unprecedented levels as many struggle with the rising cost of living, housing insecurity and inflation, Weissenborn said.
In 2020, the number of animal intakes was at 1,469 at MACC. Just two years later, that number rose to 2,534. This year, MACC has already received more than that, with 2,669 animals, according to Weissenborn.
“It’s been a hard year. I do anticipate those numbers growing. Life is hard. Our community is struggling. We want to keep their pets with them,” Weissenborn said. “It’s really emotional and we try to keep them together before doing that surrender.”
Right now, the shelter has about 90 animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits and birds.
To alleviate the number of pets in the shelter, MACC recently teamed up with the animal rescue Bond Between (formerly known as Secondhand Hounds) to launch “Pawsitive Impact.”
The goal of the program is to connect MACC dogs that have been struggling in a shelter environment with a wider network of fosters. Bond Between has a goal of rescuing more than 4,000 animals in 2024, said Maggie Schmitz, marketing director.
They hope to find a foster home for every animal until it can be placed in a permanent home.
Fostering is a boost for pets, even if it’s only for a weekend, said Weissenborn.
“The sleep they get in a foster home helps them when they come back to the shelter,” she said. “Even one night with good sleep and rest that’s going to help them in the long term.”
Fostering also helps the people who open their homes — even temporarily — to a pet.
“The bond humans and animals share is great for our mental and physical health — pets keep us active, give us a sense of purpose and some studies have shown they can even lessen anxiety and depression,” Schmitz said.
Especially, she added, if you tend to feel lonely during the holidays.
Minneapolis City Council budget amendments set some ‘unrealistic’ expectations of Office of Community Safety, commissioner says
Ahead of a final vote on the City of Minneapolis’ 2024 budget on Tuesday, recent amendments have set high expectations of a year-old city department.
Minneapolis Community Safety Commissioner Todd Barnette on Saturday said his office will “have to evaluate” whether it can implement all of the amendments directed at the Office of Community Safety in the latest version of the budget.
“There’s a lot of expectations being put on the Office of Community Safety in this budget,” City Council Vice President Linea Palmisano said during a Friday afternoon Budget Committee meeting, one of multiple meetings on Thursday and Friday.
$13.5 million worth of projects were designated to Barnette’s department over the course of 2024. That money came from a pool of $19 million that the Minnesota Legislature allocated to the city for public safety earlier this year.
Some of the amendments made by council members this week addressed ongoing work, like setting aside $4 million to eventually implement plans in development that would make the future 3rd Police Precinct into a comprehensive Community Safety Center.
Other amendments would require hiring new positions or an RFP process, including a couple of proposals for neighborhood-specific safety coordinators and one more manpower for Metro Transit safety.
“Some of these amendments, I think, will line up with what we’re trying to do with this ‘Safe and Thriving Communities’ Report as we bring that report to reality,” Barnette said on Saturday, adding, “But I can say that it’s not realistic that we’re going to get to all of those projects through conclusion in a year.”
“What I hope that people can understand is that I want us to get this right,” Barnette continued. “And I want it to be thoughtful and mindful about this comprehensive plan, and not go after what’s shiny and new.”
Budget Committee Chair Emily Koski, who called the amendments “historic investments” on Friday, responded on Saturday.
“We have another budget cycle at the end of next year, where we can continue to monitor and evaluate where we’re at,” she said.
Asked if that meant she’s “not too concerned” that all of the amendments are completely implemented by the end of 2024, Koski said, “I don’t know if ‘concern’ is the right word to use. I’m open. And I want to make sure that we’re starting these projects, some of them have already had a lot of discussions. “
If all the public safety amendments are approved on Tuesday, that would leave $5.5 million from the one-time state investment. That was set aside for future use.
Top of mind for Barnette would be using some of that money to raise salaries at the Minneapolis Police Department.
“We have to have a competitive salary for the police in order to draw law enforcement applicants to us,” he said.
There’s a “high likelihood” some money goes to bonuses or incentives, but not officer pay, Koski said, citing the one-time nature of the state investment.
The final vote on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday.
Minneapolis has $8M to help people remove ash trees, but no relief for those paying off removals now
A federal grant will provide Minneapolis with $8 million to remove ash trees on private properties in disadvantaged neighborhoods, a significant relief effort for homeowners who would be otherwise assessed hundreds of dollars in removal costs.
But those resources can’t be used retroactively — meaning there’s no relief in sight for thousands of homeowners who are paying off tree removals previously ordered by the city.
They include Amoke Kubat, who reluctantly removed two ash trees from her North Side yard that city inspectors tagged in 2021 as infested with emerald ash borer, leaving her with two large stumps and a $6,000 bill. She’s glad the federal funding will help homeowners with future tree removals, but thinks the process of identifying and removing infested trees is flawed.
“The bottom line is, the ship has sailed for me. It’s on my bill,” she said.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the agency that condemns infested trees on private property, has condemned more than 18,000 ash trees since 2013, with homeowners either paying up front for their removal or the city handling the job and then assessing their property taxes.
Tree removal assessments total more than $7.3 million, according to the Park Board.
Homeowners in more affluent neighborhoods typically pay out of pocket for a contractor to remove a tree, according to Park Board data. But residents of low-income neighborhoods, such as in north Minneapolis, disproportionately pay for tree removal via assessments and then see increased monthly costs. The $8 million funding is targeted at residents in such neighborhoods.
“We’re really grateful to have these resources,” said Kelly Muellman, environmental manager with the Minneapolis Health Department.
Several homeowners told Park Board officials at an October meeting that removal costs hurt their family budgets and that people of color, seniors and low-income residents were particularly affected.
North Side homeowner Melissa Newman, who paid $3,100 to have three ash trees taken down in 2021, told the Sahan Journal: “I inherited the tree trying to create the American dream of homeownership.”
City officials applied for the U.S. Forest Service grant, funded by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, in coordination with the Park Board. The $8 million will help hundreds of households, but the money could go fast; the city and Park Board are pursuing a $500,000 state grant for the same purpose.
The funding applies to U.S. census tracts considered to be environmental justice areas, where Minneapolis officials say at least 12,000 trees grow on private property.
The average tree removal in Minneapolis costs around $1,500, and the funding will cover the cost of removal, stump grinding and tree replacement. The city’s tree program manager, Sydney Schaaf, said officials are waiting for more details on how the grant can be used.
North Side residents disproportionately paid for tree removal via assessments, Park Board data show. More than half of the roughly 3,000 households citywide that paid for tree removal via property tax assessments in 2021 were in north Minneapolis. North Side homeowners also have seen high rates of tree condemnation.
The Park Board doesn’t target parts of the city for ash tree condemnation, said Philip Potyondy, sustainable forestry coordinator for the Park Board. “This has impacted people in every part of Minneapolis,” he said.
Newman said she would have been happy to spend $200 every couple of years to treat her trees to prevent infestation. But the Park Board doesn’t tell people that’s an option, and the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution in 2010 advising against using insecticides to treat emerald ash borer, Forestry Director Ralph Sievert told the Park Board.
One day this summer, a crew showed up at Willis White’s house in the Jordan neighborhood — much to his surprise — to cut down a massive ash tree in his backyard. The final assessment came to more than $7,500 after fees and interest, according to a records request, making it the seventh most expensive removal handled by Minneapolis since 2013.
Nearly 900 assessments were done this year, amounting to about $2 million, before the Park Board paused the process in May to make changes. The board now requires removal companies to first examine the trees in an effort to get more competitive bids, Potyondy said. And the city offers homeowners the choice of repaying the tree removal debt on their property taxes over five, 10 or 20 years, reducing the monthly cost.
Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura said he’s working with philanthropic groups to secure relief funding for people already paying assessments. “This is an absolute priority of mine,” he said.
Newman said she’s not unwilling to pay the cost of removal, but no alternatives were offered and no answers given about why her trees needed special removal techniques. She doesn’t want to see her neighbors get price-gouged, and she’s angry that no relief is coming to people who are paying off assessments.
“It’s such a slap in the face,” she said.
About the partnership
This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for a free newsletter to receive Sahan’s stories in your inbox.
Room at the inn: Community welcomes the formerly homeless home to south Minneapolis
It was the housewarming before the homecoming.
Dozens of volunteers lined long tables at Richfield United Methodist Church in south Minneapolis, filling gift bags with items their new neighbors might need on move-in day. Bedding. Cleaning supplies. Home goods for people who had been without a home until Minneapolis made room at the former Metro Inn.
The old motel became a refuge during the pandemic when Hennepin County bought the property for use as a shelter. Now Agate Housing and Services is turning the site into low-income, permanent housing — 38 tidy one-room apartments for people exiting homelessness.
But there’s a difference between being housed and feeling at home. Everyone says they want affordable housing. Not everyone welcomes it to the neighborhood.
In south Minneapolis, the welcome started at the church down the street.
“The welcome from the neighborhood has been amazing,” said Sarah Byers, Agate’s property manager at the site.
The seedy old motel had been a south Lyndale Ave. eyesore for years. As word of Agate’s project spread, church members stepped up to help. They volunteered to sew curtains, crochet potholders, even come in and help make up the beds and tidy the apartments with Agate staff.
When the congregation of the 170-year-old church chose Love Your Neighbor as a motto, they meant it.
“People of the church who have kind hearts, for years they would ask, ‘Are there ways we can reach out to the population there?’” said the Rev. Nate Melcher, the church’s senior pastor. “There was never a way we could do that safely, confidently.”
As the congregation gathered to pack the welcome baskets, Melcher captured a photo of his 9-year-old daughter working beside a 90-year-old church member, working together to welcome the stranger.
“God has given us the great gift of love,” he said. “The best way to thank you for a great gift is to get out there and share it.”
Not every affordable housing project gets a reception this warm in this town.
“I’ve been in some terrible meetings in my career,” said Kyle Hanson, Agate’s executive director. “I’ve gone into neighborhood groups with a proposal for housing and I’ve been yelled at, screamed at. … This welcome has been very different.”
Here, they’re making welcome baskets.
“Think about it,” Hanson said. “If you’re moving out of an encampment or a shelter, you’re not going to have a lot of the things you’re going to need on day one and are probably not going to have the funds to go out and buy them like most of the rest of us.”
But these 38 people will have new blankets, sheets, towels, a shower curtain waiting to welcome them home.
“The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus inviting the most marginalized people, not just to live near him, but to eat with him around the same table,” said the Rev. Hope Hutchison, the church’s director of Children and Family Ministries.
“And doesn’t that make us safer? Doesn’t that dispel the fear?” Melcher said. “When you get to know the people you live around?”
Hennepin County used federal COVID-19 relief funds to purchase half a dozen motels for use as emergency shelters during the pandemic. All of them are in the process of being converted into deeply affordable housing. Agate — the nonprofit created by the merger of House of Charity and St. Stephen’s Human Services — purchased the renovated property from the county as a $900,000 forgivable loan.
The single-room units will be rented for between $425 and $550 a month to people who earn a fraction of south Minneapolis’s median income, many straight from homelessness. The property will have communal kitchens, free laundry and access to support services.
Agate is working now to hire a full-time caretaker for the property. With a little luck, they might be able to welcome their first residents home for the holidays.
Thirty-eight units of affordable housing might not sound like much in a city where almost none of the housing is affordable.
“People say, ‘Thirty-eight? Well that’s not going to solve anything,’” said Byers, who left a career in luxury property management to work with Agate. “It’s going to solve something amazing for those 38 people.”
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