By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For John Carlbom, this is what desperation in America looks like — people so poor their only shelter is a flimsy piece of fabric.

“There are probably 10 families with children, some toddlers and babies,” said Carlbom, who lives in a homeless camp.

In a matter of weeks, the homeless camp situated along Hiawatha and East Franklin avenues has quadrupled in size. It is currently estimated that over 120 men, women and children are sheltered there.

The homeless population there is mostly Native American.

But with the explosive growth of the camp come concerns over sanitation and public health threats.

“Drug trafficking rises, there are diseases with the exposure to hazardous materials which have also spiked,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

Many of the homeless battle mental health and addiction. Proof of that came at a Thursday news conference held at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

Volunteers with the group Natives Against Heroin held up a plastic container collected on Wednesday which was filled with used syringes.

“These are filled, so this is a public health issue – we’re shaking hands but we need to be holding hands,” James Cross said.

That hand holding comes in a plan of action. The city has since brought in portable restrooms and hand washing stations. Public works has delivered garbage cans to be placed throughout the camp. Church and community groups are dropping off food and water and will soon target those with mental health and addiction treatment needs.

“We are hopeful we get to the point where we can say we successfully can end this encampment by the end of September,” said Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, Minneapolis city coordinator.

That will be an aggressive goal, which Mayor Frey says is attainable, but it will require permanent and affordable housing to prevent the encampment from returning.

“What’s needed here are homes,” Carlbom said.

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