MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On a good night, "Cindy" can get a bottom bunk at Sally's Place, a downtown Minneapolis homeless shelter for single women.
The day WCCO Radio followed her, she checked in around 2:30 p.m. and found a place for her two bags, which, aside from a storage unit in Bloomington, contain everything she owns.
She stays here through the night until the next morning, when she will venture out into the skyways until returning to the shelter the following afternoon -- staying warm and killing time.
Cindy is 66.
It's a disturbing trend emerging from Twin Cities homeless shelters: a rapidly growing number of women over the age of 60 who are showing up with nowhere else to go.
"About one-third of our women who stay the night are elderly," said Envoy Bill Miller with the Salvation Army's Harbor Light Shelter downtown, where Cindy stays. "It just breaks your heart, these are women who should be in a nursing home somewhere and here they are homeless."
It's the byproduct of a burgeoning homeless problem. There were 1,453 homeless families reported in Hennepin County last year, the highest number in more than a decade. More than 500 people cram Harbor Light on an average night, an increase of 19 percent over the past 13 months.
Miller did not have the immediate breakdown of age and gender, but he estimates the number of elderly homeless women at his shelter has far outpaced the general number of 19 percent.
"It's been staggering and is really becoming an epidemic," Miller said. "A lot of the people we're seeing are from other areas of the state, (coming here) because their more rural homeless shelters are full. It is really a statewide problem."
Cindy left a duplex in South Minneapolis last September, after her landlord raised her rent from $450 to $600. She acknowledges that she had accumulated some debt but was getting by until her cost of living went up.
She has been without a home now for five months.
"I slept in bus stops, in the park, really anywhere," she said. "I dove in dumpsters and trash cans for something to eat. It was that bad."
When temperatures began their December decent, Cindy decided it was time to seek a more protective shelter.
"I was very nervous about coming to Sally's Place (at Harbor Light), thinking that they would wonder why a woman of my age is out on the streets," she said. "When I got here, I realized just how many people here are elderly."
Sally's Place holds about 200 women. Most of the rooms contain several bunk beds and mats on the floor for overflow visitors.
"I'm (in the same room as) a woman who sleeps in her wheelchair," Cindy said. "I've seen women who are blind, carrying oxygen tanks. One woman turned 80 this week. She's 80, and she's homeless.
"I see them come in with rolling suitcases. Everything they own is in that rolling suitcase. It's become their life, and it's just awful."
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