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"More homeless than we already were:" Donations pour in for fire victims

After a devastating fire displaced the homeless, the people of Minnesota stepped up to help on Christmas

MINNEAPOLIS — Kim Jones fell homeless after her husband died of cancer. The medical expenses drowned her in debt, forced her out of her home in South Minneapolis and left her scrambling for temporary housing.

Jones landed at the Drake, a former luxury hotel that now serves as a transitional home and overflow shelter. When the building caught fire early Christmas morning, Jones did not have time to grab her few remaining belongings.

RELATED: Four-alarm fire breaks out at Drake Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, forcing evacuations

"I already lost everything once," Jones said. "Now I just lost absolutely everything."

More than 200 people, including about 100 kids, now find themselves in the same heartbreaking and dire situation after flames erupted at the Drake around 3 a.m. Many of them had stayed in the Drake for only a few weeks or a month, hoping to find a more permanent solution when shelter space opened up elsewhere.

"It was a shelter. We were in overflow, waiting to go to another shelter," Shalini Dugas said. "We're just — I don't even know — more homeless than we already were."

Diamond Carter moved to Minneapolis just two months ago from St. Louis, in search of better opportunities to rebuild her life. After the fire, she said her children escaped — but nothing else.

"I came here with nothing," she said. "Now I'm already left with nothing."

After pleas from public officials, the people of Minnesota answered the call - bringing clothes, food, diapers and other necessities to a nearby intersection. The response overwhelmed volunteers, leading them to announce in the afternoon that they no longer had any room to store donations. The Red Cross encouraged people to donate money to its organization instead of bringing more items.

"It's good to see the human spirit alive," said Jennifer Waller of a local ministry organization. "Especially when we see so much that's ugly and awful."

Angela Conley, a Hennepin County Commissioner representing District 4, said the county, city and Red Cross are working together to help the Drake residents recover from the devastation. 

"Right now, we've got a three-day shelter set up by the Red Cross that families will go to," Conley said, "and then from there our Hennepin County Shelter team will deploy to work with families to get them housed."

Conley also said that the county and city will find storage space for the overflow of donated goods. If residents of the Drake run out of something like toilet paper or diapers, the donations could serve as backup.

In the hours after the fire, the families that escaped the fire could not believe how quickly complete strangers came to their aid.

"It's really a blessing," Dugas said. "We are thankful for Minnesota."

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also posted on his Facebook page that the Minneapolis Foundation has established a fund specifically to help the people displaced by the Francis Drake fire.

Donations can be made here.

The Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 2-1-1 resource hotline is available for people displaced by the Drake Hotel fire, and anyone else throughout Minnesota who are in need. It’s free, confidential and multi-lingual. Trained information specialists will quickly assess needs and refer people to relevant resources.

There are three ways to access it:

  1. Dial 2-1-1: Available 24/7, 365
  2. Go to www.211unitedway.org: Available 24/7, 365
  3. Users can text their zip code to 898-211 for help: Available Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

As of Dec. 30, the Minneapolis Foundation has raised $390,000 to support the survivors of the Drake Hotel fire thanks to the contribution of 2,500 Minnesotans.

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