Summer is coming. Perhaps you've seen a tent or two popping up along the highway. You might have thought back to the Franklin Hiawatha encampment and wondered what happened to all those unsheltered relatives. You might even have wondered if something like that might happen again. With the temporary Minneapolis Navigation Center about to close, here's an update:
Some residents of the Franklin Hiawatha encampment were able to find shelter as the weather grew cooler: some found shelter with friends or family, others through the extraordinary efforts of groups like Avivo, American Indian Community Development Corporation, or MN Indian Women's Resource Center. 'Navigators' were hired to help those struggling with chemical dependency and addiction. (FYI: Navigators are much like case workers but work in street or shelter settings in a very one-on-one capacity. Navigators are often called upon to help those that are not just homeless, but also struggling with other issues that make finding and retaining housing a special challenge.)
Many residents of the encampment were moved to the temporary Minneapolis Navigation Center to spend the winter months. Navigators and housing specialists worked hard to find appropriate housing for them, but as of this writing there are still unsheltered homeless individuals living at the Navigation Center. A sense of urgency grows within this small community as the Navigation Center is set to close on June 3rd.
If you have wondered whether another tent encampment will happen again you are not alone. In all likelihood it will. Perhaps not as big, or as highly visible, but there are still literally hundreds of people throughout our community without a place to sleep each night. When shelters are full some have sought warmth and safety riding the light-rail during the evening hours. Tragically Metro Transit will cut Green Line service Monday - Thursday from 2:00 to 4:00 AM beginning in August - limiting accessibility to this shelter of last resort. With traditional shelters at capacity, and the Navigation Center closing, options are few. Some will inevitably turn to tent camping. Know that Minneapolis is no different from other communities across the nation; many cities across America have significant tent encampments, and they are growing.
Franklin Hiawatha encampment, September, 2018
There are many seeking solutions, including WiiDooKoDaaDiiWag/THEO. Working groups that bring together stakeholders from government, non-profit and philanthropic sectors are examining the issue from every angle. However what's missing may be YOU.
From the non-profit, Invisible People: "There is a direct correlation between what the general public perceives about homelessness and how it affects policy change. Most people blame homelessness on the person experiencing it instead of the increasing shortage of affordable housing, lack of employment, a living wage or the countless reasons that put a person at risk. This lack of understanding creates a dangerous cycle of misperception that leads to the inability to effectively address the root causes of homelessness."
So here’s a challenge we can embrace together: If you once followed the encampment turn your attention to the efforts to create change in its aftermath. The WiidooKoDaaDiiWag/THEO project is a direct off-shoot of the encampment and began with a facilitated gathering of former camp residents. From there gatherings have slowly expanded, widening the circle to seek more ideas, input, and real grassroots thinking about the issues facing the unsheltered Native community. In response to the visceral need for connection to Native culture and spiritual traditions, THEO has also been hosting workshops and spiritual gatherings at the Navigation Center, including naming ceremonies and the making of medicine pouches and dream catchers. More gatherings are planned for the near future.
Unlike the former encampment, WiidooKoDaaDiiWag/THEO is not calling for donations, firewood, blankets or tents. We are not looking for generous souls to prepare meals. But we will need YOU soon... and your involvement will help to create much longer-term healing. That's why it's so important that you stay up to date on the issues surrounding Native unsheltered homelessness and addiction. You need to become conversant in an Indigenous-centered language of change that illuminates solutions that may diverge from the dominant and often failed prescriptions of the past. We will need YOU to walk with us on this path, a path that may be new to you.
Please follow WiidooKoDaaDiiWag/THEO as the work of shaping and amplifying true grassroots solutions picks up speed. Educate yourself by reading the blog posts – which contain information and images from every gathering. The day will come when we'll need you to engage with the THEO project, first to share your ideas and opinions, and later as advocates: for the policy prescriptions that are evolving, and for the government, philanthropic and other funding that will underwrite these new and creative solutions. We will need your voice to demand that institutional decision-makers take this Native-centered work seriously.
I write this as the Native community celebrates American Indian Month. Summer will soon be here. A tent city will likely rise again - this year, and the next, and the year after that, unless and until we act with solidarity, creativity and determination.
Post and photographs by Camille.