A Minneapolis community’s uphill battle against homelessness

Connie Galt has lived in Phillips for over 50 years and refuses to move despite her son’s pleas.

Two homeless camps have appeared in the Minneapolis South Alley where Galt lives. Strangers linger on her porch during the day and have sex on the sidewalk late at night. A cryptic message scrawled on the neighbor’s garage door read, “I’ll kill you in your dreams.” It frightened him.

“I’m 81 and reluctant to argue with anyone. I’m not one of the people who go out and shout,” Galt said. “I just want it to stop. I think it must be miserable for them. I wouldn’t want to be homeless. But I can’t support them. I’m retired. I live on Social Security.”

Encampments have become endemic to Phillips’ working-class community, sometimes spilling into neighboring yards and small-business storefronts. When friction between housed and unhoused boils over, the city evicts, most of the camp clusters nearby, and long-term solutions to everyone’s problems remain out of reach.

Phillips’ neighbors feel frustrated and helpless. Some are afraid to talk about their experiences for fear of incurring the wrath of encampment advocates outside the community.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on 15th Avenue has decided as a congregation to offer public access to its water tap this summer, unable to bear the thought of people living on the streets without water. But it has created an increase in the number of people using drugs and having sex behind the building – a dilemma for their youth summer camp, said pastor Hierald Osorto.

“I serve a predominantly Latino congregation, and they love the Phillips neighborhood. They constantly remind me that we don’t want to be this problem that the world continually perceives as solved,” he said. “We want to be able to support in the best way, but the level of fear and insecurity we are currently experiencing makes it difficult to figure out how to do that.”

A day after city crews swept through a crowded tent city of 28th Street and 14th Avenue, another emerged just 400 feet east at 29th Street and nearby Bloomington Avenue. from the Midtown Greenway.

It’s a maze of around 40 tents lined up, including many of the same people displaced from the last encampment after neighbors accused them of a three-house hell on July 20. The ensuing investigation revealed that the fire had started inside the vacant house at 2817 14th Ave. S., but because its total collapse prevented a detailed examination, the cause remains undetermined.

A scathing response

“We played the mole,” said Mike Goze of the American Indian Community Development Corporation, which runs the Homeward Bound emergency shelter and drug rehabilitation center. “We’ve been doing this since 2019, and it hasn’t worked. In fact, it’s created more homelessness.”

During the last legislative session, the AICDC requested $6.5 million to acquire a 30-bed residential treatment center with outdoor ceremonial space and a sweat lodge. Despite a budget surplus of $9.2 billion, lawmakers could not agree on a bail bill.

Goze believes that the principle of housing people first allows them to better tackle other issues like mental health and employability. But he also sees addiction as the leading cause of chronic homelessness in his community, with costly habits costing more than $100 a day to fuel drive-by burglaries and the sexual exploitation of Indigenous women.

How a low-income community is supposed to deal with the opioid epidemic is an open question.

Janessa Banks lived in a tent at 29 and Bloomington for three weeks. She remains alone, carrying everything she owns in two bags slung over each arm as she walks through the alleys. At 31, she has been homeless for 18 years, she said, with addiction preventing her from maintaining stable housing and custody of her two sons.

She needs “someone who can explain things to me and show me where to go and what to do,” Banks said.

Outreach workers scour locations, offering assessments as a first step in matching people with suitable housing.

Jade Gale said she took the initiative to contact a social worker last month and was quickly placed in an apartment. She packed her things on the morning of August 4, delighted with her admission appointment that afternoon.

“I feel like I’m at the end of my addiction,” said Gale, who wants her three sons back. “I’m ready. Nothing can come between having my apartment and getting my kids back.”

For Banks, the camp offers useful respite and the security of numbers. Gale credits a skinny, curly-haired man everyone calls “King” – Deanthony Barnes – with keeping the peace and coordinating the dons.

King, who moved from camp to camp following multiple evictions, said he’d rather “live free”, not tied to a 9-5 job, paying no taxes.

As the de facto boss, King collects needles and tends to neighbors who show up looking for missing items. Sometimes he manages to find some or all of the bikes and other items for them.

“Violence happens to us too, and we just have to deal with it,” King said. “We’re not the ones stealing cars and stuff like that. We have to deal with this shit, park at camp, make ourselves look bad, bring the heat.”

No easy solution

Mahamed Cali, the founder of Somali American Radio and manager of the Madina Mall on 13th Avenue, periodically visits the camp on behalf of shoppers who have had wallets stolen from their cars. He tries to get in touch with the residents of the camp, explaining to them that his 35 small business owners are war refugees.

“We see the conflict with them. Some people aren’t happy with what other people are doing,” Cali said. “When we show them [the security footage]they say, ‘We can get it to you, please give us some time.'”

Business owners don’t want to fight shoplifting, but customers are dwindling, Cali said.

When Vinny Dionne, co-director of the American Indian Movement Patrol, passes through Phillips, he constantly encounters old friends struggling with addiction, which remind him of all the loved ones he lost to an overdose.

Dionne grew up in Little Earth and worked there as an adult, juggling multiple jobs while trying to deal with the pain of a knee injury. Prescription painkillers led to an opioid addiction that led to methamphetamine. He walked away from positive relationships and turned to other drug addicts, losing his job, selling drugs to buy drugs, and eventually serving six years in prison.

The treatment emptied his mind. He dreamed of giving back to the community, but when he came out in 2019, the explosion of drug addiction in the community came as a heartbreaking shock.

For the past two years, he has worked as a outreach worker with AICDC, providing coverage, drug treatment assessments and housing referrals. Many of the people he visits on the street are people he has known for a long time.

“Honestly, the main thing I see is that a lot of people are stuck in active addiction, and they’re not ready yet,” Dionne said. “What I personally needed was to stop doing drugs, and after that I was able to start changing my life.”

Camp sweeps complicate his job as an outreach worker as they scatter his clients, making them harder to serve. But as a father of three who also lives in Phillips, he resents drug dealers following the camps and needles everywhere.

“It’s not an easy solution because I have it on both sides,” Dionne said. “There are good people there, and those are the ones I always try to do my best to help, but there is also a criminal element that is in the camps, dealing drugs and dealing drugs. attack on our people.”

On June 30, City Council members Jason Chavez and Aisha Chughtai issued a notice of intent to develop an encampment response policy. Details are yet to come.

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