Minneapolis looking for solutions to homeless encampment: 'Winter is coming.”

“The sense of urgency that has been expressed is real to us.”

Edgar Linares
September 12, 2018 - 7:44 pm

By Edgar Linares

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The Minneapolis City Council hopes to move hundreds of people living at a homeless encampment on Hiawatha Avenue to shelter before the weather turns cold.

“The sense of urgency that has been expressed is real to us,” said Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, Minneapolis City Coordinator.

The encampment along Hiawatha has grown over the last six weeks from a few dozen tents to more than 140, with hundreds of families seeking help. Many there are American-Indians battling substance abuse and others are dealing with mental health issues.

“This is the ultimate in homelessness crisis,” said Council member Lisa Goodman. Who called out Hennepin County elected officials for not being at the meeting. “The county is twice the size of the city and it’s ironic that they’re building a train for $1.9 billion while homeless people are sleeping on the train.”

On Wednesday, the Minneapolis City Council’s Housing Policy and Development Committee filed a report on possible solutions for the hundreds of people living at the encampment. Before the meeting, council members heard from those staying there.

“I’m a felon, that’s one of the things that stops me from getting housing. I’ve been waiting for a while,” said Rose who didn’t give her last name. “I feel if we can better help people get into stable housing that that can also help slow down crime on the streets.”

The tent city has been dubbed the "the Wall of Forgotten Natives", and many at the meeting shared similar stories of growing up homeless, turning to drugs and being in and out of jail.

Jay, who didn’t give his last name at the meeting, said one month ago he finally got off the streets with his girlfriend, but said once he admitted to being a felon he was evicted five days later.

“I know we are some strong people because we stick together every night sleeping on the street,” said Jay. “If it wasn’t for those around me, my fellow Native-American brothers and sisters I don’t think I’d be standing here today.”

One suggestion mentioned at the meeting is creating so-called "Navigation Centers" with beds, health care and rehabilitation services for people with felonies who find it challenging to find a shelter.

“Whether it is folks that have felony conviction.. or perhaps can’t afford rent, or in certain circumstances struggling with addiction. These are folks that we can no leave behind and have the hardest time trying to find traditional shelter housing,” said Rivera-Vandermyde.

Rivera-Vandermyde said their goal would be to move the encampment to one of these locations by early October and she said no location is off the table. One area being considered is the Roof Depot site in Minneapolis’ Midtown neighborhood. They’re also looking at heated tents as an option that could house up to 20 people, at a cost $20,000 each.\

The council is also thinking of placing public storage areas so homeless people around the city can have a safe place to store their belongings while they seek medical services or job training.

So far, 35 people at the encampment are in the pipeline for permanent supportive housing and five people have gotten into housing, but the process takes time city officials say, and finding housing in the Minneapolis market is the big challenge.

The council will reconvene on September 20, and hopefully, have an implementation scenario ready to go.

“We’ll have to have some big decisions made by the 20th to know what’s happening,” said Councilman Cam Gordon.