MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A stretch of land in Minneapolis that once housed hundreds of people experiencing homelessness has again turned into an encampment.
Beyond the fencing and blockades set up to guard an otherwise ordinary section of tattered grass is a community in need of a home, finding refuge in a familiar place.
Carrie Johnson is the service area director of housing for Avivo, a nonprofit focused on helping homeless people find housing, as well as get mental health and chemical dependency services.
“What I’m hearing from individuals there, down there, is that it’s Native land, and that’s where they feel safe, and they’re gonna go back to their land,” Johnson said.
Her organization is one of several making daily trips to the encampment along Hiawatha Avenue, offering services and resources in the same place where hundreds set up tents in 2018.
As the calendar turned to winter that year, a massive effort between the city, county, state and local nonprofits ensued to get people permanent or temporary housing.
Hundreds were helped, but Johnson says the pandemic and riots of 2020 refueled the homelessness issue in the Twin Cities, along with one consistent factor that hasn’t been fixed.
“I can tell you that the number-one reason people are experiencing homelessness is a lack of affordable housing,” Johnson said.
Known as “The Wall of Forgotten Natives,” Johnson says many of the people along Hiawatha Avenue came from a nearby park that was cleared of its encampment. Since then, agencies like Involve MN have showed up to drop off hundreds of hot meals a week, while groups like Avivo focus on getting people a roof over their heads.
Johnson said more than 60 people were recently transported to a suburban hotel.
“We’re providing on-site support to those folks with the intention of housing every single one of them in scatter-type housing within the next 90 days,” she said.
The city of Minneapolis plans to build three shelters in the next year, with one opening in December that will be culturally specific to the city’s Native American population.
While helpful, Johnson feels more work lies ahead.
“It falls back onto a lack of affordable housing, and to the lack of resources,” she said.
The land where the encampment is set up is owned by Minnesota Department of Transportation. Johnson said MnDOT is working with the nonprofits visiting the encampment to ensure people get housing rather than forcing them out.
Across Minneapolis, hundreds of homeless people have set up tents at city parks. As of Sept. 25, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said there are 309 tents set up across 20 parks, each with maximum limit of 15 to 25 tents.
Other agencies assisting people at the encampments include Hennepin County Health Care for Homeless, St. Stephens Human Services and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.