Political Matters Sept 2018


Dick Bancroft memorial
In my August column, I wrote a remembrance of my friend Dick Bancroft, a photographer who spent decades chronicling the American Indian Movement’s activities and the struggles of indigenous peoples around the world. Dick, who died July 16, will be honored at a memorial gathering 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the McNamara Alumni Center, 200 Oak St. S.E., on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus.

This will be an opportunity for Dick’s family and friends to celebrate his extraordinary life, and for those who didn’t know him to learn about his commitment to creating a more humane world.

A growing homeless camp
There are numerous societal crises calling for our attention. In South Minneapolis, many of us have been startled to see a growing homeless camp spread along the highway barrier wall by Hiawatha Avenue, just north of East Phillips Park. There is homelessness in the Twin Cities, but we haven’t seen something like this: a large encampment of homeless people that has been increasing in population over the past several months.

The Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) created a website (franklinhiawathacamp.org) about the “Franklin/Hiawatha Encampment” – aka, the “Wall of Forgotten Natives” – that puts this distressing phenomenon in context.

“Minneapolis is built on Dakota land, and has long been home to a significant Native American Indian population,” according to the website. “The Native people here are resourceful, resilient, and committed to our families, communities and cultures. Centuries of genocide and forced assimilation have created a range of challenges for 21st century American Indians. Native people make up a disproportionate number of the homeless population in Minneapolis. Causes of homelessness are related to economics, domestic violence, addiction, mental illness, and many other causes.”

The website managed by MUID, leaders of Native-led nonprofits and businesses, points out that “many people joined together to create a safe encampment near the Franklin/Hiawatha corridor. This community is comprised primarily of Native people, many with significant housing challenges. A broad coalition of partners and stakeholders are coming together to address the short-term, mid-term and long-term barriers to housing for the residents of this camp. Working together, we hope to find housing for the camp’s residents by the end of September, and certainly before the weather turns cold.”

For most people, homelessness seems like a nightmare situation. Absent a government-backed social safety net, as exists in nearly all of the industrialized nations of the West, the fear of homelessness is not entirely absent from the minds of working people. One upside to the Wall camp in Minneapolis is that homelessness in the American Indian community is now visible to the dominant society.

Writing for MinnPost.com in late August, Jessica Lee noted that the camp on Hiawatha Avenue “embodies a homelessness epidemic that goes beyond Minneapolis. Rents are rising as the metro area’s population grows and the pace at which it adds housing is moving too slowly. People are worried that encampments like Hiawatha will become more commonplace in the Twin Cities over time, as they are in cities with extreme housing unaffordability on the West Coast.

Lee quotes John Tribbett, street outreach manager for St. Stephen’s Humans Services: “The emergency is not the camp. The emergency has been going on for years. The emergency is now visible.”

The MinnPost story also points out that many of the camp residents are addicted to heroin and meth: “They’re shooting up in tents when law-enforcement officers are around, or out in the open when activity is quieter, residents have said. Dealers have pinpointed the site as a hotspot for business, and some residents fear for turf fights with the camp’s growing size. Meanwhile, volunteers with groups such as Natives Against Heroin are trying to keep people safe as possible by passing out kits with new needles and naloxone – a drug that can fight the effects of opioids and prevent overdosing.”

According to a Minneapolis Police Department spokesperson, at least one person has overdosed at the camp, but no one has died. An August story in the Star Tribune quoted young camp resident and heroin user Katherine “Kat” Yanez: “It’s just a matter of time before someone dies out here.”

The Star Tribune also reported that the growth of the homeless camp has “alarmed county health officials and American Indian leaders, who say the lack of hygiene facilities and frequent reuse of needles have made the area ripe for infections and disease outbreaks. The camp has several known cases of a drug-resistant infection known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which can lead to sepsis, pneumonia, bloodstream infections and death. There are also reports of hepatitis C, sexually transmitted illnesses, and scabies.”

Those concerned about the Wall of Forgotten Natives can go to the MUID website, which has a list of local organizations that are accepting donations.