Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring Break, Day Two: Urban Homeworks

Today was pretty exhausting. We did a workday with Urban Homeworks, a Minneapolis nonprofit that seeks to provide "dignified, affordable housing" for low-income families and improve neighborhoods by developing property, aiding homeownership, and renting space to Christians who serve as neighbors for the families. They focus more on rehabilitating homes than on building new ones like Habitat for Humanity.

Anyway, we got to the worksite--actually worksites--today at 8 AM. They were two houses across the street from each other in north Minneapolis and we were doing demolition work. With plenty of people, we split between the houses. I went upstairs in our house and spent several hours removing spare nails, staples, and screws from every square inch of the gutted rooms. The original builders (it was a fairly new house that had had mold problems) has been a bit overzealous with the staples--they had secured the carpet at roughly half-inch intervals and each bathroom (there were two master bathrooms) had about thirty or forty full-sized staples at random locations.

Midmorning we had John, one of the Urban Homeworks staff and a former pastor, come and give us the "doodle"--a twenty-minute talk about Urban Homeworks' ideals with visual aids scrawled on the side of a box. The houses had been damaged by the tornado a few years ago; they'd had their hands full ever since. I hadn't realized how significant the difference between renting and owning homes was to north Minneapolis--many homes are in disrepair because their owners live elsewhere. Urban Homeworks is trying to help low-income families "own' their communities and feel at home there.

Anyway, soon after that we started applying a water sealer to the basement. (Apparently concrete is pretty permeable to water) It was pretty much like painting, but the holes in the wall made it hard to cover everything. Rolling the walls until we ran out of sealer took pretty much the rest of the afternoon, afterwards we went on a tour of Minneapolis, similar to the one we took in our first week in Milwaukee. I thought I knew the city pretty well, but we went to places--entire neighborhoods--I didn't even know existed. It drove home the point John had made earlier about the problems in north Minneapolis and Urban Homeworks' goals.

For dinner we visited some of the "urban neighbors" John had mentioned, living above a low-income family in a renovated home, where we ate Mexican food with them, introduced ourselves, and heard about their experiences as neighbors in a community they would otherwise have avoided. One of the guys, Erik, had been an urban neighbor for several years after traveling the world and figuring out what to do with his life. He was one of the most interesting people I've met in a while and ate five and a half enchiladas. (I think he could be a competitive eating star, but he's in law school)

Tonight we watched The Breakfast Club (I can't believe I hadn't seen that before) back at the "Hotel Legault". I'm still processing all the stuff I learned today, but it was well-timed--I'm seriously thinking about where in Minneapolis I want to live after college.

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