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Minneapolis 'Tent City' A Refuge For Homeless

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Of all the neighborhoods people drive past in the city, there's one where homes are tents and front yards are a tattered patch of shared grass that's revealing an underlying problem.

"It's simply the visual manifestation of the reality of where we are in our city," said John Tribbett, program manager for the outreach team at St. Stephens Human Services.

Starting at the intersection of Franklin Avenue and 16th Avenue South, then curving southeast around a sound wall facing Hiawatha Avenue, is a homeless camp filled with tents.

Tribbett's outreach team helps the homeless in Hennepin County not only better their lives, but more importantly, their living situation. He said on an average night, 400 homeless people are sleeping without a roof over their heads. He said there's about 50 people living at the camp.

"We are consistently seeing our shelters being near capacity or at capacity," he said.

That's partly why he said "tent city" has formed. He adds that the mostly Native American residents feel comfortable living among people they know and trust. But he acknowledges drug abuse is an issue at the camp, as well as general cleanliness and personal hygiene.

"But the reality is it's a very well maintained camp," he said, highlighting how some residents are now making a concerted effort to keep the area tidy and clear of trash.

Police officers and workers with the Minneapolis Health Department visited the camp Thursday. Inspector Mike Sullivan said the officers were there to help the health department workers assess any health concerns involving the residents and property.

Friday, St. Stephens and several social service agencies will interview each person at the camp to figure out if they can get better housing. He said they'll also address substance abuse issues, conduct HIV testing and see if the residents are eligible for benefits.

"Just generally letting people know that there are supports out there for them," he said.

Tribbett emphasized that Friday's effort won't be a "one and done" type initiative. He also pointed out that several agencies have been consistently visiting the camp to help over the past months. Other organizations taking part include Natives Against Heroin, Hennepin County Health Care for the Homeless and the American Indian Community Development Corporation.

"This is an effort that all of our community has to prioritize and bring forward because these are our brothers and our sisters out there, these are our relatives," he said. "They are us."

Thursday afternoon, neighbor Trina Martinez visited the camp with a tribal drum. She and three others played healing songs and burned sage while visiting each person and tent. Martinez said the people in her group were all once homeless and abused drugs. She said the songs they sang were hundreds of years old, passed down from their ancestors and meant to clear away negative energy.

Minutes later, three women showed up to donate bags of basic hygiene products. They weren't from a specific organization or church. They said they were simply there to do God's work.

"Our hope is that the city at large, the county at large, can come together in a way that isn't just continuously pushing the problem off on one another and utilize the resources that we are spending in a more constructive intelligent way," said Tribbett.

The camp is located on MnDOT property. It released a statement about the camp situation.

"Our first and foremost priority is the health and safety of Minnesotans. We are working closely with state agencies, area homeless advocacy groups, local government, and the Minneapolis Police Department to provide needed support to the individuals who are living on MnDOT right of way in Minneapolis.

 MnDOT is responsible for maintaining the road and right of way and appreciates working with others to protect the health and safety of the public and public property in a respectful way. Clearing homeless encampments is always a difficult decision but necessary when conditions at these unauthorized sites become a public health issue and threaten the safety of the individuals in the encampments as well as members of the public who may encounter the sites."

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