Minneapolis city officials seek an effective, humane way to deal with unsheltered people in camps

A few residents of a Minneapolis camp were still deciding where to go, while city workers in reflective vests finished cleaning up trash.

The city of Minneapolis reported that outreach workers had been working since August to locate and work together at the camp along Bloomington Avenue in south Minneapolis.

The city said three of those individuals were accepting drugs. It is not clear where the other 12 have gone.

Michael Goze was warming up a small white bus to transfer people to a nearby nonprofit.

Goze has been CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation in Minneapolis since 1992. A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Goze helps find housing and other health resources for unsheltered people, and often provides on-site support during cleanups.

“Some of the people who are here in this camp already have homes,” Goze said. “They choose not to go there because this option is available.” The few remaining people did not want to talk to MPR News about their plans.

Crews are working to clear an encampment.

Michael Goze (Ho-Chunk), CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation in Minneapolis, will provide resources and transportation at an encampment Thursday.

Nina Moini | MPR News

Newly elected councilor Robin Wonsley Worlobah said the way the city has handled camps over the past five years amounts to a game of encampment “whack-a-mole”.

Wonsley Worlobah represents Ward 2, which occupies the eastern portion of Minneapolis. Wonsley Worlobah said at least four other councilors, mostly new ones, want to move forward with creating “standardized, humane, effective camp navigating policies that meet the short- and long-term needs of residents.”

Wonsley Worlobah added that drafting the policy includes public hearings with all members of the community, including those living in encampments.

“If we don’t have a very clear process – a policy that outlines how our city is going to make sure everyone gets the support they need, especially in our encampments – then we need to pause the evictions so we create the space to sort that out. ‘ said Wonsley Worlobah.

The city said the Bloomington Avenue camp was partially on private property and the owner asked the city to vacate the area as well.

Wonsley Worlobah said encampments are not a solution for housing people, but evictions don’t often work either.

“I don’t think we all want to see people staying out in the elements in negative 20-degree weather.”

a woman poses outside for a portrait

Robin Wonsley Worlobah won in a thrilling race for Ward 2. She is the first black Democratic socialist on the Minneapolis City Council.

Jaida Gray Eagle | Sahan Journal, file

Goze said people he meets in camps often face many challenges related to generational trauma, mental health, substance abuse and poverty. Goze said some would rather live on their own than with the restrictions that come with most shelters.

“You know, the ability to take drugs when it suits them — that seems to be the driving force,” Goze said.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported in recent years that Native Americans were seven times more likely to die from drug overdoses than white Minnesotans, and race rate differences increased from 2010 to 2019.

African Americans were nearly twice as likely to die from a drug overdose than whites.

The COVID pandemic also poses challenges. Proponents say that many people who are homeless have chronic health conditions that put them at high risk of contracting the disease. They say some people refuse to stay in overcrowded shelters where it is difficult to isolate them from others.

Rescuers are currently overseeing 12 encampments in Minneapolis. The city said a customary annual census to estimate the unsheltered population did not take place last year due to the pandemic.

Wonsley Worlobah says the city council has support from the mayor to study a city policy around encampments.

While some people choose to seek or create another tent camp, Goze said he will always remain hopeful for the homeless people he encounters.

“Because I’m recovering myself, I know that if no other people in my life had intervened, I wouldn’t have chosen to change either.”

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