Celebs, vets to rappel down Vikings hotel in hopes of raising $1 million for Salvation Army

Hundreds of Minnesotans will rappel down the side of the 155-foot Omni Viking Lakes Hotel this weekend, with the first batch descending Friday night as part of a Salvation Army effort to raise $1 million for homelessness.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey were among the 20 who rappelled Friday night as part of the “Down for the Challenge” event, along with about 10 veterans with two different nonprofits and Viktor, the Vikings’ mascot.

“Melvin and I were staring adversity in the face,” Frey said jokingly. “It’s for a cause we believe in. I cannot think of a more important cause than providing people with a home.”

Dozens more rappellers — between 160 and 180 in all, each who raised at least $1,000 — will participate Saturday at the Eagan hotel, appearing to walk backwards down the building while suspended by neon yellow and orange ropes.

This is the second year the Salvation Army Northern Division, which includes North Dakota and Minnesota, has put on a large summer fundraiser. Last year, hundreds of Minnesotans rappelled down a 14-story Mall of America office tower with the aim of raising $500,000 to meet growing demands for food, shelter beds and other needs.

The Salvation Army, the nation’s largest non-governmental social service organization, provides a range of services, including food, housing, energy assistance, case management services, disaster relief and dozens of other programs, officials said.

This year, homelessness is up 30%, said Major Scott Shelbourn, the Twin Cities commander of the Salvation Army, and families are being hit harder than ever by inflation.

Every day, about 20,000 Minnesotans are homeless and nearly 70,000 are facing eviction because they are behind on their rent or mortgage, he said.

“People are really having to make hard choices,” Sherbourn said.

And this week, 1,000 people showed up at the Salvation Army’s food shelf in downtown St. Paul, said Brian Molochon, the Salvation Army’s executive director of development, adding that the average family is spending $500 a month more than they were six months ago due to inflation.

“I think the next 16 to 18 months are going to be the most traumatic and dramatic for our communities,” Molochon said. “It’s getting worse.”

The event aimed to draw special attention to the issue of veteran homelessness. Veterans and staff from Every Third Saturday and 23rd Veteran, two veteran-related nonprofits, rappelled down the side of the hotel Friday.

“Homelessness is disproportionately high among veterans,” Molochon said.

The Salvation Army, which has a $24 million budget, has specially designed rooms at shelters for vets and two transitional housing units — designed as preparation for living on one’s own — just for them, too, Molochon said.

Priscilla Good Bear, a former Marine who works for the Minneapolis Police Department and also volunteers with 23rd Veteran, said many veterans have been homeless or have had brushes with homelessness by nearly being evicted.

The organization helps veterans transition from active duty to regular life, she said, by giving them positive coping skills and focusing on a holistic view of wellness.

She said supporting the Salvation Army is also personal for her, since she grew up with a single mom and relied on the organization for food, eviction assistance and help at Christmas.

“If it wasn’t for the Salvation Army, I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I’m very grateful.”

As of Friday night at about 7 pm, the fundraiser had raised about $522,000.

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