Recognizing Award-Winning Staff MembersPosted on October 21st, 2019
An esteemed group of Simpson staff members — Mary Gallini, Single Adult Housing Programs Manager, Wendy Wiegmann, Director of Programs, Robert Hofmann, Shelter Manager, and Marian Wright, Shelter Operations Manager — share the honor of having received the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless’ Congressman Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award, recognizing extraordinary individuals who have gone above and beyond to provide housing and support to people in need.
The award honors the late Congressman Bruce Vento who served as a tenacious advocate for people experiencing homelessness during his nearly three-decade tenure in the MN House of Representatives and U.S. House of Representatives.
Each year, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless accepts nominations from community members, and the organization unveils the name of the award recipient at its annual conference.
Receiving the award is not about the recognition for this group of Simpson recipients. “It’s something to live up to. It’s a challenge. I don’t think that any of us got into this work for recognition, nor did any of us feel comfortable with that recognition when it came. It’s a reminder of what we do at Simpson and our values that we bring to this work,” says Robert.
In Good Company
The group of Simpson colleagues has much in common: They are collaborative leaders in the important work of helping people experiencing homelessness. Each recipient has contributed to the field for at least a decade — and for a few, many more years. Each committed advocate has been with Simpson for a majority of his or her professional career.
Wendy Wiegmann, who has managed each of her fellow recipients during their careers with Simpson, describes the honor of working alongside this group: “I feel lucky to work with these really great people, who win awards and deserve it. And more people deserve it in our community. There are a lot of people who are working really hard. We’re a team of people that’s always learning, growing, curious, and dedicated to the fact that housing is a human right, that each person deserves a safe place to be.”
The dates at which Simpson staff members received their awards coincided with times of systemic change in the community’s response to homelessness:
When Mary received her award in 2001 , she was leading a project to open a shelter on the West Bank of Minneapolis. “We needed more shelter for the city. The project brought attention to the need and systems at play. We learned a lot about collaboration, serving single adults, how neighborhood groups work, the system, and what could get in the way,” she says.
Due to roadblocks in the process, the shelter did not open. However, Mary’s work went in a different direction, efficiently focusing resources to successfully place long-term homeless single adults into housing.
Wendy received her award in 2007, shortly following the launch of the Housing First initiative at Simpson. “In 2005, we really started to move the needle and looked differently at how we serve folks who have been in shelter for a while. We said, ‘Let’s house whoever has been here the longest, and see what happens.’ We did, and that became the model. A lot of new ideas — that don’t seem so new now — were being implemented. This became a successful model for individuals and families,” she says.
Robert received his award in 2017 amid a transition to a coordinated entry system for the five Minneapolis shelters serving single adults. Adult Shelter Connect (ASC), a centralized location for single adults seeking shelter, opened the year before. Through ASC, the Single Adult Shelter Collaborative matched people with shelter.
Robert recalls the collaborative planning process: “We articulated some of Simpson’s values as we systemized the way we do shelter. We built upon Simpson’s model, as it had been an effective model for the last decade. As we were having conversations about what values to carry into a bigger system, I hope I was a voice in bringing our values, practices, and person-centered work to the community table,” says Robert.
Marian received her award in 2019 following Simpson’ successful operation of the Navigation Center, an innovative community partnership model built to quickly accommodate safe and dignified temporary shelter for the primarily Native community members who were living outdoors at the Franklin-Hiawatha encampment in Minneapolis. Marian was selected to serve as the manager for this 24/7 low-barrier shelter.
Having a safe place to stay, guests could address barriers such as physical health needs, mental health concerns or other limitations. Harm reduction strategies were implemented and expanded based on guest needs. Staff talked openly with guests about chemical use and offered resources to reduce risks and enhance well-being.
Marian describes the foundation of Harm Reduction in her daily interactions: “We work with so many people that have experienced so many traumas and racial disparities. It is hard for them to feel that we want what is best for them. We don’t force anyone into moving forward. We meet them where they’re at.”
A total of 176 individuals stayed at the Navigation Center, and 74 guests achieved positive destinations like housing, nursing homes, or treatment programs. At the time of closing, an additional 30 guests had housing move-in dates or were actively working toward housing placement options while residing with family or local shelters.
Dedicated to our Mission and Values
The community has looked to Simpson during times when there was a need to think more progressively about homelessness or serve as an anchor during a time of transition. “We’ve long been an organization that steps into the fire,” says Wendy.
Grounded in its core values, Simpson’s staff is singularly and steadfastly focused on the organization’s mission: to house, support, and advocate for people experiencing homelessness.
Simpson’s Executive Director Steve Horsfield acknowledges the accomplishments of this award-winning group: “It is an honor to work alongside Mary, Wendy, Robert, and Marian. They are tireless advocates that embody our mission and our values in their work every day. Our community is better for their efforts.”
Simpson would like to recognize Monica Nilsson, a former Simpson Shelter Manager, for receiving the Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award in 2003.