MINNEAPOLIS (WCC)O — For those who don’t have homes, fighting COVID0-19 is even more complicated. Encampments for people experiencing homelessness are growing in the Twin Cities.

There are 700-800 people living outdoors in Hennepin County. And as of late, encampment living is becoming more popular.

Sean Dewalt is experiencing homelessness and has COPD, “The shelters are the worst place because when one person gets infected, that is gonna run through the shelter like you won’t believe and so many people will lose their lives.”

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There are believed to be at least two dozen people in the metro who are homeless who have had positive for COVID-19.

John Tribbett heads up the Street Outreach Team at St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis, “Putting people into shelter right now is potentially a death sentence for a lot of people.”

Tribbett works to help protect people who are living on the streets. He says the primary need is for more single space living.

A few hotels are offering up rooms, but they are hundreds short of meeting the need.

“If you can’t get people into a single unit dwelling like a hotel, then the next best alternative is that people will stay in place in what is their home,” Tribbett says.

And that means encampments with proper spacing, food, trash cleanup – and hygiene stations and toilets. Minneapolis is setting up four stations like this around the city. Tribbett says it’s a start but the need is mounting, to make the streets safer, for everyone.

“We are all in this together. There is no separation. The virus doesn’t care if you have an address or not, and we need to figure this out for everybody but particularly those who are the most vulnerable and the most marginalized,” Tribbett says.

Another reason encampments are growing is because of the weather, but John says it’s mainly because shelters are accepting fewer people in an effort to social distance. During the shelter in place order, encampments cannot be “sweeped” by law enforcement.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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