The Associated Press (AP) has revealed a troubling story of the largest ever homeless encampment site mostly made up of Native Americans has quickly erected just south of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
City officials are scrambling to contain the situation as two deaths in recent weeks, concerns about disease and infection, illicit drug use and the coming winter season, have sounded the alarm of a developing public health crisis.
“Housing is a right,” Mayor Jacob Frey said. “We’re going to continue working as hard as we can to make sure the people in our city are guaranteed that right.”
The AP said approximately 300 people are living in the camp that is situated beside 16th Ave S & E Franklin Ave.
Earlier this month, a team of AP reporters visited the camp and found dozens of tents lining the city street.
To their amazement, most of the residents were Native American.
The homeless camp — called the “Wall of Forgotten Natives” because it lined a highway sound barrier, is in a section of the city with a large concentration of American Indians that are suffering from extreme wealth, health, and education inequality. The AP said the tents stand on what was once considered Dakota land.
“They came to an area, a geography that has long been identified as a part of the Native community. A lot of the camp residents feel at home, they feel safer,” said Robert Lilligren, vice chairman of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors.
The camp illuminates the inequalities (mentioned above) that face American Indians in the state. AP provides a shocking statistic that American Indians make up 1.1% of Hennepin County’s residents, but 16% of the homeless population, according to government data from April.
It is also a community that is being decimated by opioids. Minneapolis officials in July sued a group of opioid manufacturers and distributors, alleging their actions to promote prescription opioid drugs, such as OxyContin, have caused an addiction crisis straining the city’s resources.
AP said one end of the camp had been designated for families, while adults — some of whom were high on drugs — were on the other end. In the middle, an organization called Natives Against Heroin, a tent where volunteers handed out bottles of water, food, and clothing. The group also provides addicts with clean needles, and most volunteers carry naloxone to treat overdoses.
“People are respectful,” said group founder James Cross. “But sometimes an addict will be coming off a high… We have to de-escalate. Not hurt them, just escort them off. And say “Hey, this is a family setting. This is a community. We’ve got kids, elders. We’ve got to make it safe.”
With hundreds of people living in close quarters, health officials fear an outbreak of infectious diseases like hepatitis A. Local support groups have started administering vaccines. Earlier this month, a woman died when she did not have an asthma inhaler, and one man died from a drug overdose.
Local government agencies have set up areas to provide medical assistance, antibiotics, hygiene kits or other supplies. There are tents advertising free HIV testing, a place to apply for housing, and temporary showers. Portable restrooms and hand-sanitizing stations had also been positioned around the camp.
The Minneapolis City Council voted Wednesday to move the camp to a 1.5-acre commercial property owned by the Red Lake Nation. The decision came five days after Mayor Jacob Frey and representatives of ten tribes said the industrial site was the best place to relocate the tent city.
The new site at 2105-2109 Cedar Ave. South will not be ready until December because demolition work will take several months, according to David Frank, the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development director.
“We will go as quick as we can to have the interim navigation center operational and ready,” Frank said. “We have our permitting people standing by. We have our housing team, our facilities team and our projects management all lined up to do this work.”
The cost of preparing the site with living accommodations for dozens of people will be between $2 million and $2.5 million, Frank added.
Minneapolis’ homeless explosion comes as no surprise. The much larger trend at play is the nation’s homeless population increasing for the first time since 2010 — driven by housing affordability issues, and widening inequalities.
In a recent, Bank of America note titled “The Thundering World,” a major theme in development for the 2020s could be “the epic wealth inequality” that is plaguing the economy.
BofA says quantitative easing amplified income and wealth inequality over the last decade. The distribution of wealth is the widest ever. The top 1% own 40% of the global wealth; the bottom 80% own 7%.
What does this all mean? Well, decades of failed economic and social policies are about to come home to roost. The explosion of homelessness in Minneapolis over a short period, is an example of the breakdown of the social fabric that will strain many more municipalities across the country in the years ahead. The America that we knew will not be the same by 2030.