ROCHESTER, Minn. — As a man with disabilities and experiencing homelessness in Rochester, Corey Jacob had a routine worked out to keep himself and his cat, Nighty, safe.
He quietly spent his days in the Rochester Public Library and his nights in an old, modified van.
“Since April 2017, my hours using all of the services of the library have far exceeded any other patron. I spent more time there than even more of the staff,” said Jacob sitting on a blanket on the sidewalk outside the library doors. “I was here every single day.”
And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It took away the key part of his routine, the Rochester Public Library. Like so many public places, the library closed its doors to the public, and Jacob, in March.
When the library eventually started offering limited patron access by appointment only for Internet use, Jacob’s disabilities that prevent him from wearing a face mask or face shield for long periods of time meant he couldn’t make use of even that limited access.
That’s why he spends most of his time these days on the sidewalk in front of the library, a spot where he can use the WiFi service and stay somewhat sheltered from the elements. He’s also near people he has spent the most time with in recent years, the library staff.
With Minnesota’s winter months looming, he knows that his old white van won’t be able to shelter him and Nighty for all the hours that he previously would have spent in the library.
“We won’t make it in that van,” he said.
Like most of the library staff, Andrew Stehr has known Jacob as well as most of the area's homeless population for years. Seeing his plight, Stehr has launched a GoFundMe campaign titled "Helping the Hardest to Help" to raise $50,000 to buy a custom van to give Jacob and Nighty a place to live with some dignity.
Many people suggest a variety ways to help Jacob, but his combination of disabilities makes his situation unique.
“The solution to homelessness is different for every single person. Everybody has a different story. Everybody has different issues and problems,” Stehr said. “The solutions that are most common for most people won’t work for him …. With his combination of disabilities, this really (acquiring a new van) is the only one that will work.”
Jacob has always sought to find his own way to live quietly. In 2017, he lost his apartment. His solution was to use all of his savings to purchase a van to serve as his living space.
Unfortunately, that first van was totaled by an uninsured driver. The Rochester community, including the car dealerships Kinsella's Auto, Clements Chevrolet, Southpoint Motors and Zumbrota’s Grover Auto, connected him with a 1990 GMC conversion van.
That van was good enough to get through last winter. During the cold snap that closed the city down last year, Jacob was running his van for 20 to 30 minutes every three hours to try to keep warm.
Without the library as a daytime and early evening haven, Jacob knows he needs a van with more power, more heat and more ventilation. His goal is to have one that can accommodate solar panels to supplement its power and heating.
Jacob is certain that he can maintain and cover insurance on a new van with his disability funds. He just needs help getting it.
“It would be great to get something before the snow flies. Of course, it’s October in Minnesota, so that could happen any day now,” said Stehr. “A lot of us (the library staff) have known Corey for a long time. We just don’t want anything to happen to him.”
How to help
If you would like to help Corey Jacob and Nighty, visit the GoFundMe campaign at https://gf.me/u/y3szcj.