By Lee Egerstrom
Native American leaders from throughout the state spent all of September working with state and local officials in Minneapolis on immediate, short-term problems for housing the homeless while others worked on longer-term fixes to a chronic housing problem in Indian country.
As the month came to an end, the Minneapolis City Council voted approval of plans to temporarily move the “Wall of Forgotten Natives” homeless encampment from the Hiawatha and Franklin Avenues area in south Minneapolis to nearby property on Cedar Avenue owned by the Red Lake Nation.
The city and Indian leaders refer to the planned temporary facility as a “navigation center” to provide emergency shelter, safety and access to health care for the approximately 300 people passing through “the wall” encampment.
Just how – and how soon – this transitional site can be readied for relocating the homeless campers was still under discussion as The Circle went to press for the October edition. But American Indian leaders along with city, Hennepin County and state officials were meeting daily to make the transition possible before severe cold weather sets in.
“We are in a scramble,” said Patina Park, chair of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) organization that has become a central administrator for the ever-growing homeless encampment.
Park, who is also executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, said the large number of American Indian nonprofit organizations and business groups in the south Minneapolis area have nearly all become engaged with the homeless crisis in their neighborhood.
Essential services have been set up in the camp through the American Indian Community Development Corp., for instance, and the nearby Native American Community Clinic (NACC) now has people on site “nearly 24 – seven,” Park said.
Joe Hobot, president of the American Indian OIC, and Mary LaGarde, executive director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, “are either there every day or have staff who are” because their operations are simply nearby.
While talks continued on immediate, crisis housing needs, Indian leaders and allied research groups continued work on longer-term ways to meet housing needs and to help Natives access financing and buying their own homes.
It is a long stretch from homelessness to home ownership. This article is a wrap-up citing multiple media accounts on what is happening to help Native Americans in Minnesota shorten the path.
As agreed in late September, the temporary plan would be to move Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) trailers into the Red Lake-owned property at 2109 Cedar Ave. S. Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported that each trailer could house 54 beds – not ideal for privacy but preferable to the approximately 160 tents and sleeping bags out on chilling autumn ground.
After the city council vote approving the temporary site, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the Red Lake site is “culturally appropriate and equipped” for serving the mostly Native population from the camp. He noted that all 11 Minnesota sovereign tribal entities have been partners in the planning.
“Thank you to tribal leadership for stepping up, and particularly the Red Lake Nation, for offering an important option for the temporary navigation center,” Frey said in a statement.
Sam Strong, tribal secretary of the Red Lake Nation, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in a Sept. 28 article, “These are our people down here.
“The reality is, as tribal leaders, we need to step up, and it’s powerful when we do,” he told the newspaper.
While MUID organizations are at the forefront of groups providing services for “the wall” population, Ona Knoxsah reported in the September issue of The Circle that church groups and volunteers – including a Minneapolis police officer – are helping serve food and provide sanitation and safety.
Mike Goze, vice chair of MUID and chief executive officer of the American Indian Community Development Corp. (AICDC) said in a MPR interview, referenced below, that these groups and volunteers provide 120 lunches a day, provide haircuts, installed three showers, and established a services center helping people find housing and drug treatment referrals.
What’s clear is that these services will be needed long after the camp is moved to the temporary navigation center on Cedar.
Patrice Kunesh, assistant vice president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank and director of its Center for Indian Country Development, reminded residents of Minnesota and the Ninth Federal Reserve District that homelessness remains “a persistent problem in Indian Country.”
That involves both urban areas and rural-based reservations, she wrote in a Sept. 24 article. “Often disguised as an overcrowding problem – intergenerational cohabitation and ‘doubling up’ with family or friends – the real issues are a combination of low personal incomes and barriers to the supply of affordable housing units in most Native communities,” she said.
The Wilder Research arm of the St. Paul-based Wilder Foundation quantifies homelessness and housing problems every three years and those studies look at housing and homelessness for Natives in the state.
In its most recent, 2015 report, Wilder researchers found 8 percent of adults and 9 percent of youth in non-reservation areas were considered homeless. When data was combined with findings from reservations, the homeless population for Native adults and children both rose to 12 percent.
“By contrast, American Indians make up just 1 percent of the total population in the state,” the Wilder report said.
The Red Lake Nation is heavily involved with addressing these longer term problems as well. The temporary navigation center is to be housed in a former wholesale hardware complex that Red Lake purchased a year ago. It plans to build a six-story, 109-unit affordable housing complex on the site beginning in 2019.
That addresses housing shortage problems for a large number of Red Lake members as well as others living in the Twin Cities. It also means some other arrangement for temporary housing for “the wall” residents will need to be found when demotion and construction begins.
That won’t be easy. State officials and homeless advocacy groups cite statistics showing 102,000 Twin Cities’ households have family incomes of $26,000 and less. There are only 34,000 mostly occupied housing units considered affordable for this income group, leaving 68,000 with few opportunities.
Long term, helping American Indian households become home owners is essential for family stability and lesson pressure on affordable housing rental properties. Two major research and training projects address this task directory for Indian Country.
Within the past year, Kunesh and the Minneapolis Fed’s Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) published a comprehensive “Tribal Leaders Handbook on Homeownership” that walks planners and leaders through various financing and complex land ownership issues.
For advocates and organizations dealing with housing shortages and homelessness, the Fed’s handbook shows the early complexities of land and home ownership that came down from European colonization, well before U.S. independence. It starts its look at inherited land problems from the historical origin of the term “Indian country,” or land west of the Appalachian Mountains cited in England’s 1763 Royal Proclamation.