Homeless Encampment Reveals Housing Deficiencies

Timothy Wilmot

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Over the course of the past few months, an encampment of homeless individuals has been rapidly growing near Hiawatha and Cedar Avenues in south Minneapolis.  This encampment consists of a multitude of tents and other temporary structures, packed like sardines onto all available soft surfaces. The encampment is home to more than 300  men, women, and children- the majority of whom are of Native American descent. 

The Minneapolis City Council’s Housing and Development Committee has been tasked with providing temporary housing for the people living in the encampment. The city has discussed multiple concepts for housing these people, including large, heated tents, unused warehouses, and emergency dwellings that traditionally houses people following natural disasters. Many of the residents of the camp have pled with the committee for help finding housing for the winter, and, in late September, the Minneapolis City Council approved a plan to relocate the encampment from Hiawatha Avenue to the land of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. Earlier in September, plans were also been announced to move some of the people to a 400,000 square foot warehouse in the East Phillips neighborhood.

On Friday, September 21, the tribal leaders offered a location south of the Franklin Avenue light rail station to use as temporary housing for the encampment’s residents during this coming winter.  This location has multiple abandoned buildings, some of which were acquired with the purpose of building low-income housing in the near future. On Wednesday, September 26, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to relocate the encampment to this site and hopes to have a functional navigation center open in early December or sooner. The navigation center, borrowing from concepts used in San Francisco to accommodate its long-term homeless residents, will provide temporary housing and services to people in need while also helping residents search for future sustainable housing accommodations. 

While the navigation center is under construction, the city council of Minneapolis and local tribal leaders have been considering the temporary use of Federal Emergency Management Agency-style trailers. These trailers can accommodate up to 54 beds each and are used to accommodate people who lose their homes to natural disasters. These shelters would not be ideal as a long-term solution, but they would at least be able to offer a reprieve from the harsh Minnesota winter. With the assistance of several Native American nonprofit organizations, the encampment’s residents have been provided with supplemental food as well as showers, haircuts, and a services center.

The current lack of emergency housing options has led to the realization that the Minneapolis area is not sufficiently equipped to accommodate all of its homeless residents. The encampment represents only a portion of the total homeless population, and the city has already been struggling to find accommodations. 

Three people have died in the encampment: Two overdosed on drugs, and another had an asthma attack without an available inhaler. These deaths have shown that, while homeless people may feel more comfortable living in a group rather than on their own, the encampment is not sustainable for the safety of its residents. The drug-related deaths are suspected of being from drugs sold within the encampment; while the suspected drug dealers have since been removed from the camp, there is still a prevailing issue with drug usage.

As city officials work diligently to create short-term solutions for the winter, they must also continue to ponder a permanent solution that includes a much larger quantity of affordable housing for those in need.