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Jason Sole 11

Modern-day abolitionist

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

How life experiences brought Jason Sole to where he is today

Hamline University adjunct criminal justice professor Jason Sole calls himself a survivor of the War on Drugs. He went from being a soldier on the streets to being a scholar, and said, “Once I understood the law, everything changed.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Jason Sole is feeling peaceful these days. The former drug dealer, street gang member, and three-time convicted felon has succeeded in turning his life around. With criminal justice degrees under his belt, he is focused on creating a radical new definition of criminality – and policing – so there can be justice for all.
In his 42 years, Sole has done some bad things, and taken some hard knocks for them.
Raised on Chicago’s South Side, Sole was born into poverty in 1978. His father was (and still is) a heroin addict, and his mother struggled to raise their three young children on her own.
Tired of being poor, Sole joined a local gang at 14 and quickly moved up through the ranks selling drugs. He came of age in the early years of the War on Drugs, introduced by then President Richard Nixon.
Sole said, “We’d never heard of ‘mass incarceration’ back then, it was just our world. I could see that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t have the language for it yet. Police officers pulled me over where ever I went, constantly asking me for ID since I was a kid. I didn’t have any ID yet, and this happened to every Black guy I knew. I was upset at the world, upset at the police, upset that my gang friends were dying before they were old enough to go to high school.”

Black in a mostly-White school
When he turned 16, Sole’s mother shipped him off to relatives in Waterloo, Iowa – hoping to save his life. He was on the all too familiar trajectory of a Black man likely to die young.
Sole said, “You have to understand that a gang is not a play thing. It has structure; there were leaders and soldiers 500 deep in my South Side neighborhood. If I was going to survive, I had to make a plan because there were no outlets.”
Sole went from the nearly all-Black public school system on the South Side of Chicago to the nearly all-White Waterloo school district. He became captain of the basketball team in his new high school, and set a track and field record while maintaining good grades. He’s a tall guy, a really tall guy, and a naturally gifted athlete. Sole said, “I was smart and good at sports, but I was stigmatized for being a gang banger from Chicago. That label limited my opportunities.”
When he graduated from high school, Sole went home to his family in Chicago. He had enlisted in the Air Force, passed all of their admissions exams, but ultimately was rejected for having had childhood asthma. According to Sole, “Most of the kids in my neighborhood had childhood asthma; I hadn’t used an inhaler since eighth grade.”
Sometimes Sole wonders how things could have played out differently. He said, “I tried to join the Air Force, but I became a soldier on the streets instead.”

Vacation turns to probation
He worked a few low-paying jobs in Chicago, before deciding to get a fresh start in St. Paul. He had a friend he could stay with here, but conceded, “My friend wasn’t exactly living his best life.”
Soon Sole wasn’t either. At 19, he was caught with an unregistered firearm. The legal age for carrying a weapon in Minnesota is 21. He said, “I came to St. Paul on vacation, and got stuck here on probation.” Jason Sole’s long journey through the criminal justice system had begun.
At 21, he was convicted of second-degree possession of a controlled substance. By the time Sole was granted early release, he knew the only way he would ever succeed was to get an education.

Redemption through education
In December 2006, Sole received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice while serving time for his third felony offense. The prison allowed him two hours to attend his commencement ceremony. When he walked across the stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Sole said, “The place exploded in cheers. I got my redemption in that moment.”
He continued to study the criminal justice system in graduate school.
Sole said, “I endured years of imprisonment, and a lot of trauma (including being shot) before I figured out how I wanted to live my life. I’m grateful for the perspective I have, grateful for the grace, grateful for my wife and daughters, grateful to be alive.  Most people in my old neighborhood ended up dead or in jail for a very long time. I was one of the lucky ones.”

Better solution than police and prison
Dr. Jason Sole is now an adjunct professor in criminal justice at Hamline University, and a national keynote speaker and trainer. He has served as president of the Minneapolis NAACP, been a faculty member at Metropolitan State University, and is creating liberation programs for people of color across this community. He believes there is a much better solution to crime prevention than the present-day system of policing.
In 2013, he received a Bush Fellowship and focused on reducing recidivism rates among juveniles in Minnesota. In 2016, he published, “From Prison to Ph.D: A Memoir of Hope, Resilience, and Second Chances.”
In 2018, he was recruited by Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter to be director of the newly created Community-First Public Safety Initiatives. After the mayor spent $900,000 hiring additional police officers in 2019, Sole resigned on Martin Luther King Day.
He does not regret his decision, saying, “Look what happened! There was more gun violence in Saint Paul last year than ever before. Adding to the police force didn’t make anybody safer; it actually made us less safe. We can hold people accountable without putting them in cages.”
Sole continued, “Abolishing the police doesn’t mean there won’t be accountability for people who harm others. Divesting from police means that money can be used to house the unhoused. Divesting from police means that we can provide culturally specific drug treatment for those struggling with addiction. Divesting from police means that we can provide more jobs and better training to youth. We need to invest in people on the bottom rungs of society. That’s where real change will come.”

Humanize My Hoodie
There are many ways that Sole stands up to the system, and challenges the status quo. Not long after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot while wearing a hoodie, Sole started teaching his college classes wearing one. The goal was to help his criminal justice students get more comfortable with a black man dressed that way.
Sole’s ongoing “Humanize My Hoodie” Project is designed to end the senseless police killings of Black and Indigenous People of Color; to reinforce the truth that Black men in hoodies are valuable human beings not meant for target practice. Along with his high school friend, fashion designer Andre Wright, Sole turned the “Humanize My Hoodie” project into a movement with their custom designed sweatshirts, art installations, and workshops.
For more information on Jason Sole’s work and the “Humanize My Hoodie” movement, visit: www.humanizemyhoodie.com
Writer’s note: This piece neither reflects nor contradicts the editorial position of this newspaper. It is offered as a conversation starter on the subject of policing, and a reminder that each of is the product of our experiences. What experiences have shaped your attitude toward the police in this city? What kind of changes do you hope to see and why? Direct your comments to the editor at tesha.christensen@gmail.com.

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Ridership was setting records… then there was a pandemic

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Metro Transit says it is a good thing fewer people have been using light rail since March


Since opening in 2004, the Blue Line has offered folks an alternative way to get to doctors’ appointments, grocery stores, and restaurants. With the addition of the Green Line in 2014, people can travel from the downtown St. Paul to the airport via downtown Minneapolis. (Photo by Terry Faust)

Normally, a summer day in July or August would mean big business for the Metro Transit Light Rails. Twins’ games would bring in riders to Target Field or concert goers might take the light rail to US Bank Stadium or the Target Center. Even just summer activities in local neighborhoods, would bring in business to the Green or Blue Lines. Local families often use the light rail for groceries, doctor’s visits, or entertainment like going out to dinner. But, the light rail lines have been seeing fewer riders since COVID-19, and Metro Transit says that’s a good thing.
“We want people to exercise social distancing. A packed car does no one any good,” said Metro Transit public relations manager Howie Padilla.
In the last few years, Metro Transit has seen record ridership. The number of riders continued to go up until the pandemic. Last year, there were more than 14 million riders on the Green Line which averaged at 44,000 riders each day. And, on the Blue Line, there were more than 11 million riders with an average of over 32,000 on a given weekday.

Most of these were local community members in everyday use. But now, it’s common to see only five or six riders per car. Metro Transit encourages riders to find another way to get to their destination during the pandemic. If a trip is not a necessity or if there is another form of transit available to use, Metro Transit would prefer riders do not use the light rails and save the seat for someone who absolutely needs it.
“Our priority is the same as it’s always been – to provide a safe environment for our riders to their destination,” said John Humphrey, who is Deputy Chief Officer of both the Green and Blue lines.

The old and new method customers use to buy tickets.

COVID-19 plan
Metro Transit also put a plan in effect to keep riders safe. Light rail cars are fogged with a sanitizing solution each night in order to ensure that every surface is completely clean. Face masks are required even on the platforms. The website instructs riders to social distance, practice good hygiene and to stay home if they are ill. More on their COVID-19 plan can be found at metrotransit.org/health.
“All of our decisions are made with our riders’ and staff’s safety in mind,” Padilla said. “We’re in this with the community.”
The light rails have provided the community with another option of transportation since 2004. This has caused property values to go up, pollution levels to go down, and traffic to decrease, according to Metro Transit.

Housing vouchers offered
Metro Transit is working with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) in order to pass out vouchers for rental spaces that homeless riders can use. The LRT is used by homeless people as a place to sleep, especially in the winter. These vouchers will provide shelter for those riders in need. The decision to displace homeless riders from the trains in August of 2019 received mixed reviews from the community, but Metro Transit’s Homeless Action Team says it is still working to find more of a permanent solution to homelessness even through the pandemic. They’ve put more than 100 people into housing and have given out $1.8 million in assistance.
“The light rail is not a replacement for a bed or home. We’re working on getting people into more permanent housing,” Padilla said.

Volunteers cleaned to get light rail back up and running
The community has also given back to the Blue and Green lines. Metro Transit representatives mentioned that they would not be able to reach record amounts of ridership by the special event riders alone. Local community members have been the ones to use the light rails most throughout the years.

Another example of this is when Humphrey visited the Lake Street Station, 2310 Lake Street East, to check on the line after the first three nights of the Uprising. When he arrived, he found that community members were already there. Volunteers were cleaning graffiti and debris off of the tracks. They asked Humphrey for more ways to help in order get the light rail back up and running.
“The community was incredibly appreciative that the train was up and running the day after,” Humphrey said. “We don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re out there with the community.”
Metro Transit aims to provide easier access to essential spaces during this time, and, to provide reliable transportation even if that means less riders for the time being.

Expanded bus, light rail service coming in September
Upcoming schedule changes will provide riders more options and space when traveling on buses and trains. The changes taking effect on Saturday, Sept. 12, will mean that many local bus routes, the METRO A Line and the METRO C Line will have about as much service as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. The METRO Blue Line and METRO Green Line will offer 10-minute service throughout most of the day.
Because of a significant drop in demand, around 50 express bus routes will remain suspended and the Northstar Commuter Rail Line will continue to operate on a limited, weekday-only schedule.
In July, ridership on local bus routes and the METRO A Line and METRO C Line was down about 50% compared to the same month last year. Light rail ridership was down about 75%. Increases in local bus and light rail service will help riders keep a safe distance on buses and trains as more people return to transit.
Other notable changes taking effect on Sept. 12 include:
• On Route 63, bus stops will be eliminated or relocated and several new shelters will be installed.
• Route 54 will begin serving a new transit center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s Terminal 1.
• Routes 7 and 68 will be extended to provide residents in south Minneapolis and St. Paul better access to services.
• A new route, Route 363, will replace routes 361 and 365 with express trips between Cottage Grove and downtown Minneapolis via downtown St. Paul.

“Our priority is the same as it’s always been – to provide a safe environment for our riders to their destination,” said John Humphrey, who is Deputy Chief Officer of both the Green and Blue lines. Because of COVID-19, ridership is down this year. BELOW is the new method customers use to buy ticket.

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A Backyard Farm 18

Reinventing farming in the city

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Coleen Gregor (left) and Joan James (right) with one of their signature garden beds. The co-owners of “A Backyard Farm” are dedicated to growing healthy food in the city. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

What do Green Zebra, Black Russian, and Amish paste tomatoes have in common? They are all a type of heirloom tomato offered to customers by Joan James and Coleen Gregor, co-owners of “A Backyard Farm.”
Spouses Joan and Coleen started their urban farming business 11 years ago, determined to share the experience of farming fresh, high quality organic vegetables with other city dwellers. Their home in Mac-Groveland is filled to bursting with seedlings, especially in March when as many as 4,000 tiny plants are under grow lights in the basement – ready for an early start each planting season.
That jump start is one of the guiding principles behind the success of “A Backyard Farm”. Imagine a full-on, food production system in your back yard that is productive from mid-May through the end of October. How is this possible with the relatively small yards most home owners have in the city?
“A Backyard Farm” works from the square foot gardening method, where a different vegetable or herb is planted in every square foot of a 4 x 8 foot bed. That means that 32 different plantings are being rotated throughout the growing season, with early, mid, and late summer harvests.
In their partnership, Joan is responsible for sales and marketing. She does a site evaluation for each prospective client, determining if the site receives at least seven hours of direct sun daily. She said, “You can still grow a garden with less sun than that, but the plants won’t produce abundantly like we want them to.”
Once a client signs up for the season, they receive a plant list with 75+ different plant varieties to choose from. They also choose whether they want a raised bed that sits on the ground, or one that is elevated on sawhorses for easier access.
Joan explained, “We use cedar to construct all our beds, so they last at least 15 years. We also install everything the customer could possibly need: rabbit fencing, deer fencing, drip irrigation, a trellis on one end of the bed for climbing crops, and specialized soil mixture. All of this is theirs to keep as part of the first year’s cost.”
Coleen is, by her partner’s description, a vegetable savant. She was born and raised on a farm in southern Minnesota, back when farm families grew and preserved the majority of their own food. She still believes in living that way, even in the middle of the city.
Another guiding principle of “A Backyard Farm” is that people should know and trust where their food comes from. Joan said, “There was just another salmonella outbreak on the west coast. Food safety, in my opinion, is not going to get better any time soon. I haven’t bought a bag of lettuce from a grocery store in more than four years. We freeze about 75% of what we grow, and can the rest. We have a standing freezer, and eat out of it all winter long.”
Joan, Coleen, and their staff of up to 10 farmers coax a formidable harvest out of each backyard garden for their clients. They currently care for backyard gardens across the Twin Cities metro area, regularly working 8-12 hour days to keep up with the planting, mentoring, and maintenance.
Some clients want to learn to garden better. Coleen is available to help them as a garden mentor, meeting once or twice a month. In that situation, the health of the garden is up to the client but Coleen is there to offer guidance. Joan explained, “Using our intensive method, each plant has to be “trained” to stay inside its square. It’s a little like having a puppy.”
If a client signs up for weekly maintenance (and no mentoring), the health of the garden rests on the farm team. On the regular maintenance schedule, all customers have to do is look for the weekly harvest neatly packed on ice in a cooler outside their door.
Joan said, “There are environmental benefits to the client on several levels. We start all our own plants with organic, non-hybridized seed from Seed Saver’s, Johnny’s or Baker Creek. We source our compost and worm castings locally. The client’s carbon footprint is reduced by not having to drive to buy fresh, organic vegetables.”
In a year without a global pandemic, “A Backyard Farm” would be offering classes to many different school and community groups. Joan said, “Our business had grown to the point where about 50% of our income came from teaching, but of course that’s all on hold right now. Another big change this year is that clients are more careful about making big purchases. Maybe a new client will invest in one garden bed, when they really wish they were ordering two.”
Still, it has been a good season. Joan said, “I have an heirloom tomato on my dining room table right now that must weigh four pounds. It’s one of my favorite heirloom varieties, called Brandywine. It’s a real beast – kind of misshapen, pink on the inside, just delicious.” For more information, email gardens@abackyardfarm.com.

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New mural exhibition sustains fight for justice

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

A neighbor looks at the mural exhibit at 825 University Ave. (Photo by Tyler Olsen-Highness)

Four murals created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have been re-introduced to the public at 825 University Ave. With messages like “Keep on Pushing We Can’t Stop Now,” this exhibition is an effort to help continue the momentum and movement towards justice.
The project is a collaboration between the Victoria Theater Arts Center (VTAC), Model Cities, and the Ramsey County Historical Society – three very different groups who came together to support community healing.
Both VTAC and Model Cities had had murals created on the plywood of their boarded up windows in the days of unrest this past June. Created by professional muralists Alex Smith and Witt Siasoco, as well as community youth, the murals are vibrant expressions of community energy. Colorful and powerful, they blaze with the fires of hope and justice. So, when it was time for the murals to come down, discussions began on how to preserve and display them in the community.

Muralist Alex Smith works on the Radical Love mural.

“The uprising was reactionary and immediate,” said Aki Shibata, co-chair of the VATC’s community engagement committee, “We wanted the voices of Black and POC artists to be supported by the community and help sustain the movement.”
The VTAC’s interior is uninhabitable, as it is currently a construction zone. The western exterior wall, however, which faces Model Cities’ “pocket park,” was an ideal home for these murals. Highly visible from University Ave. and the Victoria Light Rail Station, the murals are accessible to motorists, transit riders, and pedestrians alike. Planning kicked into high gear to get the murals up as soon as possible.
One big question arose: How to protect these one-of-a-kind pieces of art from the elements? They’re painted on OSB – a material that’s designed primarily for indoor use, and especially vulnerable to water. The paint itself is also delicate, and there was worry that these pieces would degrade quickly if left in the elements. Luckily, the Ramsey County Historical Society had the solution: bowling alley wax. A long-time favorite of preservationists, the wax protects without altering the materials it’s applied to.

Community members carefully apply wax to the murals to preserve them at 825 University Ave., near the Victoria Light Rail station. (Photos submitted)

The organizations pooled their resources for installation and materials, and VTAC had volunteers ready to help with the efforts. On Aug. 8, a team of community members delicately applied the wax to the murals. On Monday they were installed by two professional theater carpenters who are currently out of work due to COVID-19 closures.
All three organizations see this as exactly the kind of collaboration and project that can help their community’s fight for equity. The art is beautiful, big, and from the heart. The location is on the border of Frogtown and Rondo, both of which have experienced systemic oppression throughout their history. The artists who created them are from the neighborhood. The hope and passion behind the art is palpable and contagious.
“We’re so happy we can allow community members the opportunity to experience this magnificent showcase of art and reflect on its true meaning!” said Kizzy Downie, CEO of Model Cities.

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City ‘desperately’ needs help from other levels of government, says CM Jalali

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

37 businesses completely destroyed of 330 damaged during civil unrest

About 330 St. Paul businesses sustained $73 million in property damage and $8.8 million in lost inventory and other assets during the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. St. Paul City Council members, meeting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board, heard the grim news Aug. 12.
Minneapolis is still tallying its losses, but estimate places the number of damaged or destroyed businesses at more than 700.
Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police sparked nights of property damage, vandalism and theft. Some businesses were burned to the ground, while others were looted or sustained other property damage.
St. Paul Economic Development Director Martin Schieckel outlined the losses to businesses, which had already been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development and Department of Safety and Inspections staff began immediate outreach to affected businesses. Businesses have been helped in finding financial and technical resources and getting permits for repairs or demolition.
Thirty-seven businesses were totally destroyed, according to Schieckel. About half of those are national chain businesses and aren’t seeking city help.
Most of the losses were sustained along University Ave., although businesses in many other neighborhoods were also hit hard.
Midway Center had businesses looted and set ablaze. It will be demolished.
Ward Four Council Member Mitra Jalali, whose ward was among those hit hardest by damages, said the city “desperately” needs help from other levels of government.
But state and federal assistance hasn’t been forthcoming. President Donald Trump in July rejected a disaster declaration request for Gov. Tim Walz. Walz has said he’ll try again.
During a June special legislative session state lawmakers failed to pass a measure offering $300 million in assistance. The PROMISE Act passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.

How estimates were made
Schieckel gave the HRA Board an outline as to how damages were calculated. The damage estimates are based on a formula estimating the repair costs necessary to bring a property back up to the previous standard, repairing and replacing damaged portions as needed. For each business the percentage of the business real estate that was damaged by the civil unrest was scrutinized. In cases of fires, the St. Paul Fire Department made the estimate as part of its standardized operating procedure.
In cases where the percentage damage to real estate was substantive or generally over about 10 percent, city staff classified the buildings as either “major” damage, or “destroyed.” This included 37 properties and businesses. Three data points were used to come up with a repair estimate. City staff looked at total above-ground square footage of the establishment as recorded in the Ramsey County Assessor’s office data, and Fire Department reports on building damage. City staff also interviewed area construction firms to figure out an appropriate per-square-footage estimate for rebuilding in the current market, which was $425 per square foot.
When estimating damages, city staff also used other factors. In cases where the damage to real estate was minimal, a blanket rule of $10,000 was assigned as impact for businesses affected. This was used as an amount to cover time and materials for boarding up the windows, repairing the windows and window frames after boarding, cleaning up graffiti, repairing other low-level vandalism, and other additional costs incurred as a part of the unrest.
“Some businesses in this category surely exceeded the $10,000 threshold for real estate damage, while others were below it, but as a baseline, it seemed about right,” a city staff report stated.

Resources for help
Council members are concerned about resources only going so far. Earlier this year the city worked with community and foundation partners to set up the $3.3 million St. Paul Bridge Fund. That provided assistance for families and small businesses that were struggling as a result of the pandemic.
St. Paul already is facing cuts to its budgets, with decreased revenues due to the pandemic. Schieckel said the city is helping businesses find other resources.
Ramsey County is offering small business grants of up to $10,000, through a program that closed Aug. 21. The We Love St. Paul/We Love Midway grant program and Midway United are also offering support. The federal Small Business Administration is offering loans.
Other private, state and federal program were available, but have closed applications.
The city is also offering technical assistance in the form of legal services, business mentorship, and assistance with design and planning, volunteers, relocation and insurance assistance.
“We at the city of St. Paul, we might not have all the resources, we might not have the perfect resources, but we are here to help,” said Ward Three Council Member and HRA Board Chair Chris Tolbert.

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Election Sept. 15 for board vacancy in District 4

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By Michael Kuchta,
Executive Director

Special elections
Community members in South Como or Energy Park can vote online until 5 p.m. on Tuesday Sept. 15 in a special election to fill a vacancy on the District 10 board.
To request a ballot: Fill out the form at www.district10comopark.org/ballot.html.
Who can vote: All residents age 16 or older who live in Sub‐District 4 are eligible to vote. So are authorized representatives from a business or nonprofit organization with a physical location in Sub-‐District 4. The Sub-­District 4 boundaries are Dale on the east, Snelling on the west, and the two sets of BNSF railroad tracks on the north and south.
The winning candidate will serve until April 2021, filling the remainder of the term left vacant by Bob Jacobson, who is moving out of District 10.

Coffee shop to get STAR Loan
The proposed Sacred Grounds Community Coffee Shop, on Front and Milton, is one of 20 projects that was expected to receive Neighborhood STAR funding when the City Council voted Sept. 2 (after the Monitor deadline). The funding – a $37,500 grant and a $37,500 loan – would help the 28-seat coffee shop finish construction of the retail space and adjacent patio at 883 Front.
The refurbished building most recently housed a Buddhist temple; it started as Fireside Corner (which evolved into Fireside Hearth & Home). Neighborhood STAR money finances capital improvements for economic development in city neighborhoods. Money comes from the city’s half-cent sales tax.

6 Projects Seek CIB Funding
Six projects in District 10 remain in the running for 2020-21 funding from Saint Paul’s Capital Improvements Budget. Roughly three dozen proposals overall are competing for a share of the $1 million that is available. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14; final recommendations are scheduled to go to the mayor by Sept. 30. Proposed projects in District 10:
• A marked crosswalk outside Como By the Lake apartments, 901 East Como Blvd.
• Informational kiosks and trail improvements in Como Regional Park
• Security cameras and other safety features along the lake’s bicycle and pedestrian paths
• A dog park in Como Regional Park
• Exterior signs for Northwest Como Recreation Center
• Snow-making equipment for a 5K loop of Nordic skiing on the Como golf course

Crime in Como rises
Crime in Como is up in almost every category in the first six months of 2020, compared with 2019, according to city statistics. Nonetheless, Como remains one of Saint Paul’s safest neighborhoods.
Residents, visitors, and businesses reported 463 crimes in District 10 from January to June, a 17.2 percent increase from crimes compared with the same six-month period of 2019. That is in line with crime in Saint Paul as a whole, which increased by 16.8 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to preliminary reports compiled by police in the city’s Crime Incident Report Dataset.
Among categories of crime that increased in Como were confirmed reports of gunshots; robbery; burglary; domestic assault; and theft, driven by a 40.5 percent increase in stolen vehicles.
The only major category where reported crimes decreased was narcotics arrests.
Como, however, remains one of the city’s safest neighborhoods. That is true in actual numbers of crimes and in crime rates, based on population. The neighborhood continues to have the third-lowest crime rate in Saint Paul, a ranking that has not changed. Only Highland and Macalester-Groveland have lower crime rates.
More details and charts are available on the District 10 website: Search for “Crime is Up in Como”.

Call or link into D10 meetings
Join board meetings either by video conference or by phone.
To obtain links, phone numbers, or other access information, send a request by email to district10@district10comopark.org. Or, call 651-644-3889. Upcoming meetings:
• Board meeting: Tuesday Sept. 15
• Neighborhood Relations: Tuesday Oct. 6
• Land Use: Wednesday Oct. 7
• Environment: Wednesday Oct. 14
All meetings begin at 7 p.m. Whenever possible, agendas and other relevant documents are posted in advance in the “Board News” section of District 10’s website: www.district10comopark.org

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Community members investing in commercial real estate through new REIC

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Midway Coalition

By Kate Mudge

Kate Mudge

The Hamline Midway Coalition is exploring the opportunity for community members to come together and invest in commercial real estate through a Real Estate Investment Cooperative (REIC). A REIC allows for residents to become members and pool their dollars and invest in commercial and residential real estate projects; Hamline Midway will be focused on commercial real estate.
Hamline Midway officially launched its REIC engagement efforts in mid-August and already has over 50 people ready to become members and invest.
For Hamline Midway, there is an opportunity to capture the energy and resources of neighbors to work together to preserve and incentivize a curated mix of diverse businesses in our community.
The organizers will continue early outreach and engagement through October to assess feasibility and identify a steering committee. The plan is to start accepting pledges as early as late winter, 2020.

Hamline Midway will not be the first REIC in the country; in 2011, Northeast Minneapolis started a REIC and nationally there are REICs around the county including New York and California.
Existing REICs point to local control of real estate decisions and incentivizing small local businesses as being the main reasons for starting an investment cooperative. There is the potential for investors to see a return on their investment and additional benefits include providing an opportunity for everyday people to learn about investing and make decisions about their neighborhood.

This effort received technical and financial support from Creative Enterprise Zone and Council Member Mitra Jalali’s office. For more information about the initiative or to get involved, check out the Hamline Midway Coalition website: https://www.hamlinemidway.org/investment-coop

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How are seniors adjusting to COVID-19 pandemic?

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Local organizations offer various resources



Laurel Collins of Hamline Midway Elders

A senior who regularly attends luncheons and games group at Hamline Midway Elders, 1514 Englewood Ave., reflected to one of the staff about how her time during the pandemic was going. She mentioned that she was used to living alone, but that COVID-19 had brought on new challenges. Talking on the phone just wasn’t the same for her. She used to have a group or class that she went to each day, but now, once a week was normally all she had.
Hamline Midway Elders (HME) is a non-profit organization that aims to provide volunteer sand professional service to seniors in their own homes. HME was founded in 2001 in order to focus on its own local seniors. Hamline Midway Elders is also a part of The Living at Home Network, a Minnesota program that supports community-owned and non-profit organizations that help the state’s seniors live at home.
The adjustment to most events now happening online was also a difficult switch for some. Many seniors needed to order groceries online for the very first time. Or, use telehealth for medical appointments instead of going in. Laurel Collins, the program director for Hamline Midway Elders, mentioned that with libraries, community centers and the YMCA closed, it became even more difficult for seniors to find ways to connect without needing to figure out Zoom or Skype.
“Some seniors are not comfortable using computers and smartphones, so this can be difficult,” Collins said. “Pre-COVID-19, our program had offered in-person classes like exercise, yoga, knitting, and we held monthly luncheon events that were well-attended. These opportunities to be together are greatly missed.”
But even with the challenges presented to them, Collins believes that the seniors in the community are resilient. Many have reached out to family, friends or neighbors for help. Groups like the tai chi instructors, who are seniors themselves, adapted their class to be held online and have continued since April. Many have ordered books through the contactless program offered at the St. Paul library or are getting more time outside.
Even though none of the in-person classes are being held at this time, HME continues to help seniors with rides to essential medical appointments, grocery and other deliveries to their homes, and assistance with yard chores. Their staff and volunteers follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines related to wearing masks at all times, washing hands and wiping down the office or car, limiting interaction with people we are helping.
“Now, with COVID-19 precautions, we still visit by phone or Zoom, or from outside their front door!” Collins said.
HME still encourages the community to still take part in helping seniors. Cards can be sent in to HME’s address and will be distributed to the seniors that they visit. They also organize groups to help the seniors with their yard work or look for volunteers to be drivers. To be a part of these groups, contact HME at 651-209-6542.
“Reach out to your older neighbors, ask them how you can help. Maybe it’s picking up library books for them or helping with outdoor housework or yard chores,” Collins said.
In planning ahead, Collins fears for how many difficulties there still are to come.
“Winter in Minnesota can isolate people with the struggles of getting around, and I fear that this winter may be a tough one if we still have pandemic precautions in place,” Collins said.
Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, transportation was very challenging for the seniors. Minnesota winters will most likely make it even more difficult for seniors to get to the places they need whether it be for groceries, medical visits, or for activities. Collins encourages people to reach out to offer help to anyone in the community, not just the seniors.
“All humans need contact and care, but some are more isolated than others. A community that is aware of its members and reaches out to all is a happier and healthier community,” Collins said, “The pandemic has shown how important it is for all of us to come together to get through this!”



Larvel Bunker

Larvel Bunker, the co-owner of Comfort Keepers Twin Cities, (275 4th St. E., Suite 345 in St. Paul), believes that loneliness is a big struggle for many seniors during the pandemic. Socially isolated seniors have a greater risk of mental and physical decline while socially engaged seniors have higher levels of physical, mental and cognitive functioning according to a study done by Forbes. Social interaction may even slow Alzheimer and Dementia patients’ decline, according to the National Institute of Health.

Comfort Keepers Twin Cities provides in-home, non-medical care for seniors and other adults in need of assistance with daily activities. They have more than 700 offices nationwide, and serve the local communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Along with daily assistance, Comfort Keepers Twin Cities provides 24-hour home care, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease care and end-of-life care.

“Feelings of isolation are universal and far reaching, especially during the statewide Stay at Home order. Some seniors found themselves walled-off even from residents within their own buildings, which although necessary for safety, could not have been easy on seniors and may have lasting effects on some,” Bunker said.

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Wondering about PPP loan forgiveness?

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Chamber hosts session focused on steps businesses can take next

As a B Corp, Sunrise Banks believes it is their social responsibility to help their community, according to Senior Vice President Chris Albrecht. This year, that has involved handling 1,800 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans worth $215 million.
Over 80% were under $150,000 and 50% were under $50,000, she said.”We really were hitting our mission of taking care of our community and small businesses,” said Albrecht during a Midway Chamber of Commerce Zoom meeting focused on PPP loans held on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2020.
In all, $11.3 billion was distributed in Minnesota before the PPP loan program closed on Aug. 8, money that helped keep Minnesota employed, observed SBA’s Minnesota District Office Director Brian McDonald.
After the initial $349 billion was claimed within two weeks, another $310 billion was released. Of that, $130 billion remains, according to McDonald. There is speculation that it may be released for additional loans, which could be granted to those who received loans in the first round, or it could be distributed to specific groups of businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic such as restaurants or musical venues.
“It was really a remarkable effort by the lending community,” said McDonald. “We’ve heard a lot of comments about how helpful it was.”
National SBA representatives visited the Midway area in August to hear from local businesses, including Elsa’s House of Sleep, Deneen’s Pottery and Urban Growler.
Initially, the PPP loan program provided money to cover expenses over an 8-week time frame with a 2-year repayment period at 1% interest. Also, at least 75% had to be spent directly on payroll. Other forgivable expenses included mortgage interest, rent, and utilities.
The rules were adjusted on June 5. The biggest shift was providing funds for a 24-week period, and stipulating that at least 60% (versus 75%) needed to be spent on payroll in order to get full loan forgiveness.
The repayment period was also expanded to five years. Those who received a loan prior to June 5 can request that their borrower change the repayment period from two to five years, pointed out McDonald, but need to get that in writing.
The Small Business Administration is overseeing the PPP loan program. “The SBA used to be one of the best kept secrets of the federal government,” said McDonald. “We’re a small agency with a big mission.”
The SBA was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns. It offers training and financial assistance. It is also helping businesses damaged by civil unrest with disaster loans, particularly for those that were uninsured or underinsured or suffered economic injury.

How to get loan forgiveness
Since the PPP loan program closed, the focus has shifted to loan forgiveness, said McDonald.
The 25 people who attended the virtual session on Sept. 3 were ahead of the curve, according to McDonald.
“It is important to work with your lender,” he advised. The loan forgiveness paperwork will be submitted through the lender. Some will do this online and some with paper applications.
“Stay in touch and keep the lines of communication open with your lender and trusted partners,” McDonald stated.
Local CPA Kevin Sullivan pointed out that businesses can manage this process themselves, use their in-house bookkeeping or hire an outside consultant to pull together the necessary documentation needed for loan forgiveness. SCORE is local resource with volunteers that assist small businesses (www.score.org) with loan applications, as well as marketing and other strategies.
Once a loan forgiveness application is submitted, a lender has 60 days to submit it to the SBA, which then has 90 days to approve it. Businesses have 10 months to submit paperwork for the loan forgiveness.
While there has been speculation that the government may offer wholesale forgiveness, right now everyone who received a PPP loan needs to fill out an application for forgiveness, clarified McDonald.
Sullivan shared information from the American Institute of CPAs. Qualifying payroll costs include:
• Salary, wages, commissioners or similar
• Cash tips or the equivalent
• Payment for leave
• Allowance for separation or dismissal
• Housing allowance or stipend
• Payments for group healthcare benefits including group health care coverage
• Payment of any retirement benefits
• Payment of state and local taxes assessed on the compensation of employees
Those with salaries over $100,000 are excluded, as are those who are not U.S. residents and those who work as independent contractors.


The Midway Chamber of Commerce is offering the following free online workshops:

• Parents: Surviving and Thriving in the School Year, Thursday, Sept. 17, 3-4 p.m.
• Economic Development: Recovery, Tuesday, Sept. 22,
8-9 a.m.

Upcoming in-person events:
• Midway Walking Tour, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 3-4 p.m.
• Business After Hours, Lake Monster Brewing patio, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 4-5:30 p.m.

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Bike Community Biking 59

Bike riding skills and repairs offered for free

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Tesha Christensen


The group rolled out, maintaining physical distancing while practicing safe bike skills in traffic. First stop on the night’s ride was the Express Bike Shop on Selby Avenue, a community partner with the Lexington-Hamline District Council. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Do you want to improve your bike riding and repair skills before the snow flies?
The Lexington-Hamline District Council is partnering with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and Concordia University to offer several bike events through the end of September. Bikes and helmets are provided, and there is no cost to attend.
Bike MN Education Coordinator CJ Lindor said, “We’re offering these events to encourage people to ride their bikes more often. We chose our meeting spot near the Skyline Tower in hopes of reaching residents from neighborhood high rises, and others who might have limited access to bikes and bike education.”
For safety, physical distancing will be practiced at all times at these events – but socializing is encouraged. Participants and instructors must wear face masks. Advance registration is suggested, because attendance is capped for COVID safety.
Two program assistants (18+) are needed for the classes and community rides. A stipend is available for each assistant. Contact CJ Lindor at cj@bikemn.org, if interested.
The Adult Learn-To-Ride classes are meant for adults who have not previously ridden a bike, or who feel unsteady and need extra help. One-hour group lessons will offer a structured learning sequence with trained instructors in a traffic-free setting.
The Community Group Rides include free use of bikes and helmets during the ride, or you can bring your own. These are for adult riders interested in urban biking. Participants get an overview of bike safety. Ride leaders accompany participants through neighborhoods, explaining best routes for transportation and recreation. Rides are planned for approximately five miles at a moderate pace comfortable for all riders, and last about 90 minutes.
In the Mobile Bike Repair Clinic, experienced bike mechanics welcome walk-ups for bike repairs and adjustments, with limited parts provided at no cost (as available). Sizing, shifting, braking, wheel adjustments and other repairs are provided on a first-come-first-served basis. Bike owners cannot leave bikes unattended before or after repairs are being done – you must stay with your bike.

Sept. 9 from 5:30-7 p.m.: Community Rides
Sept. 10 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.: Mobile Bike Repair
Sept. 22 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.: Instruction for adults
Sept. 23 from 5:30-7 p.m.: Community Rides
Sept. 24 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.: Mobile Bike Repair
All activities meet/start at the Ries Tower on the Concordia University North Campus: 393 Dunlap (corner of Griggs and St. Anthony avenues).
These activities are funded through Met Council grants with the goal of reaching recently arrived immigrants, people of color, persons of lower income, and women.
The bikes being used are from Erik’s Bikes. The company has donated 80 bikes to Bike MN so far, and their bikes are used by approximately 15,000 riders each year. They have also donated two 24’ trailers for transporting bikes to teaching locations throughout the state.
Lindor said, “I appreciate being able to support people learning to ride, or finding new and different ways to use their bikes. We always get a range of people on our rides and in our classes. There’s more to learn about biking than balancing and pedaling. I enjoy sharing skills that can help people be less fearful about riding in traffic, and more enthusiastic about riding in general.
“As the Bike MN education coordinator, I’m usually on the front lines delivering classes. I had early, positive experiences with biking and I love sharing that with people who might be learning later in life. A bike is a simple, powerful machine, and it can take you just about anywhere.”

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2019 Midway Chamber Directory