Some times words don't come easy. I'm staring at the keyboard wondering how to convey two days that started with so much hope, and ended with near tragedy. But let's start with the positive. Many good things have happened.
Yesterday representatives from the City of Minneapolis met with Patina Park and Robert Lilligren of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors group (MUID), the designated point of contact within the Native community for encampment-related matters. They discussed the in-progress plans to create safe, warm, transitional shelter for the residents of the camp. Much progress has been made in just three weeks and all expressed gratitude for the continued work and input of grassroots groups like Natives Against Heroin (NAH), tribal leadership, and city, county and state agencies. Work on the transition plan has truly been a community effort.
Meanwhile, back at the camp, a group of students from the High School of the Recording Arts in St Paul, led by their instructor Phil O'Neill, built a much needed 4 x 8 ft bulletin board in the center of the camp where opportunities for housing and other services can be posted and messages left for camp residents. It's an analog communications center for what is essentially a small village without computers or electricity.
Later Peggy Flanagan, the current candidate for lieutenant governor, visited the encampment. She toured the camp with James Cross of NAH and Robert Lilligren of MUID, gathering information she can take to the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless annual conference in Duluth later this week. If elected, Flanagan would become the highest ranking Native woman in public office. It's impossible not to feel a sense of hope and progress when you're spending time with Peggy.
And then today we witnessed the first official step towards a humane transition. The housing subcommittee of the Minneapolis City Council reviewed the proposed plan, albeit without a designated site, and passed a motion directing staff to develop implementation plans for the establishment and operation of:
- One or more navigation center(s), including careful consideration of City-owned property, to provide emergency transitional services to address the immediate needs of the residents of the Hiawatha encampment that includes low-barrier access to emergency beds, basic healthcare, and other support services; and
- One or more culturally-focused and informed transitional housing options focused on serving American Indian individuals and families suffering from chronic homelessness.
But despite this good news from City Hall, a tinge of sadness hangs in the air at the camp. The tragic and preventable death of camp resident Alissa Skipintheday, from an asthma attack, continues to weigh heavy. The loss is especially difficult for the NAH volunteers, including her cousin Fabian. Alissa's spirit fire no longer burns at the center of camp, but the presence of loss still remains.
And last night - and again tonight - tragedy nearly struck again. On both nights camp residents overdosed but were revived through the speedy injection of Narcan, a drug used to treat suspected opioid overdose. Respect to the members of Natives Against Heroin who are trained to administer Narcan and CPR. They saved two lives over the course of just 36 hours.
The heads and hearts of camp residents, NAH volunteers, MUID members and our community are reeling. Anxiety is palpable at the encampment, where medical services are few and the residents remain skeptical about their options for the future. Winter looms.
As I stared at the keyboard tonight, wondering what to write and how to describe this emotional roller coaster, I did know one message that must be conveyed: without hope there is despair. I'm heartened by the council vote today but fear the slow roll of bureaucracy. The residents of the Franklin Hiawatha encampment deserve our attention, our compassion, and a commitment from our elected representatives to do more and do it better. They deserve safe shelter and there is no time to waste.
Peggy Flanagan visits the Franklin Hiawatha encampment
Instructor Phil O'Neill and student volunteers from the High School of the Recording Arts in St Paul construct a large bulletin board for the camp.
Alissa Skipintheday's memorial at the Franklin Hiawatha encampment.
Posted by Camille