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Native American homeless encampment grows at Hiawatha and Franklin, community demands housing support

Jessica Miles
Updated: September 03, 2020 06:24 PM
Created: September 03, 2020 05:29 PM

The Wall of Forgotten Natives is a Minnesota Department of Transportation property near Hiawatha and Franklin avenues where homeless men, women and families live in tents.

"I don't know why we get pushed or threatened constantly or brought to jail for trying to live somewhere," said one woman who lives in the encampment.

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It is the same area homeless Native Americans lived two years ago, many retreated back to the encampment Wednesday, moving from where they were camped on public property nearby.

"You've been told so many times and you get shut down so many times you learn to put your head down and walk away you become empty and hopeless," the woman shared.

Native leaders say the inaction and lack of accountability from all levels of government to help with housing has put them right back, not only in the same location, but the same position they were in in 2018.

"We need to do better for our Native relatives who are sleeping outside and sleeping in areas unfit for human habitation," said Robert Lilligren with Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors.

"This is the third winter in a row our community has had to call out to our state and county and city elected officials to help us put a plan together to save lives and care for people who are sleeping outside," he added.

Native leaders are demanding elected officials who control the resources support the community to help find housing.

"We can't just stand around and think about where we are going to put up our camp next, you know, we got to make that happen," said Native American Civil Rights leader Clyde Bellecourt.

The county told KSTP, "Hennepin County is currently operating the largest and safest shelter system we have ever had in response to COVID-19. There continues to be unused shelter beds every night that can be accessed by calling 612-248-2350."

"Increasing access to affordable housing remains the only permanent solution to homelessness. So far in 2020, more than 1,200 people transitioned from shelter or unsheltered homelessness to permanent housing in Hennepin County. We continue to work in new and innovative ways to create and preserve affordable housing in our communities that meets the needs of our most vulnerable residents."

The city of Minneapolis added:

"The City is committed to working with partners to address the increase in unsheltered homelessness in Minneapolis. Before the City closed the encampment on a City-owned lot at 2313 13th Ave. S. yesterday due to health and safety concerns, outreach teams from St. Stephens, AICDC, Avivo, MIWRC, and Hennepin Health Care for the Homeless were on site providing assistance to campers in packing up, providing advice on housing options and social service referrals, and providing transportation services for moving to another location. Everyone at the encampment was offered shelter. 

"The City is meeting with State and County partners this afternoon to discuss how to help people who relocated to the former encampment site at Franklin and Hiawatha. The City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County's response to homelessness during COVID-19 prioritizes moving people from unsheltered homelessness to safer shelter and housing situations. There has been a significant increase in unsheltered homelessness since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The City Council recently approved a roughly $8 million funding package to expand shelter capacity for three new shelters for people experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis, including a culturally specific emergency shelter for the City's Native American population. The proposed shelter at Cedar and Franklin avenues is a partnership with the American Indian Community Development Corp. (AICDC) to purchase and renovate several buildings to accommodate a 24-hour, 50-bed emergency shelter with services. The project is funded by the City, County, State and philanthropic partners. It's expected to open in December."


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