Luke Little Thunder brushes off a cushion at an encampment where he was staying along Franklin Avenue near Cedar Avenue Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.
After months of government inaction and neighborhood frustration, a sprawling homeless encampment on a traffic median near Cedar and Franklin avenues will be cleared on Tuesday.
Joe Hobot, president and CEO of the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center across the street from the encampment, said the city has released American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 dollars to Native-led nonprofits to move people from the encampment into shelter.
The city recently posted “no trespassing” signs at the encampment, saying people must vacate by 7 a.m. on Tuesday.
“Once this began in earnest, it kind of felt like the word got out that change is afoot,” said Hobot, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “It has noticeably thinned out. It’s still quite large and uncomfortable.”
Tents first sprang up on the median near the Homeward Bound Shelter — which was opened in December by the American Indian Community Development Corporation — and quickly multiplied, moving under the Light Rail underpass east to Cedar Avenue, then across the street to the Volunteers of America property and north to Scooterville at 20th Street and Cedar Avenue.
The encampment has been hit by multiple tragedies: A baby was found dead in a vehicle near the encampment, several people overdosed and a couple of people were hit by cars.
Hobot called it a “little pocket of lawlessness” that the Minneapolis Police Department was reluctant to clear after activists blocked them from clearing an encampment in Near North in March, leading to physical confrontations.
Hobot was especially concerned as American Indian OIC’s alternative high school, Takoda Prep, resumed classes earlier this month.
Across the street, another alternative high school at Volunteers of America switched to virtual learning and moved some classes off-site due to safety concerns.
Julie Manworren, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin, told the Reformer in mid-September that they had been seeking help from police and government officials for months.
Marisa Cummings, president and CEO of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center just down the street, has said drug dealers were openly selling drugs, and used needles littered the ground.
City officials would send them to the county — telling them the 10-foot median of Franklin Avenue is county property — and the county would send them to the city.
The Metro Urban Indian Directors — a coalition of Native-run nonprofits — pushed for the federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars to be used to help address the encampment. But they weren’t getting much traction until Hobot talked to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey in early September, followed by a Reformer story about the encampment.
At the time, Frey said in a statement that he was working closely with Hennepin County, the MUID and the community “to identify safer options” for those living at the encampment.
Now MUID, Hennepin County and the city are coordinating the work, he said.
Native groups are now on the ground, helping to move people to safe housing or shelters, Hobot said. The MIWRC will be able to move 30 women into hotels, he said.
This is just triaging a symptom of a bigger problem and won’t make a difference long term, Hobot said, and the underlying causes of homelessness need sustainable solutions “in a culturally contextualized way.”
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