Tomorrow, Friday December 28th, will mark one week since the last of the Franklin Hiawatha Camp residents were moved out of the cold and mud and into the new Minneapolis Navigation Center. Over the past week more than 130 of our homeless relatives were moved out of the camp, off the street, and into a safe space. Many of these individuals wrestle with mental health and chemical dependency issues. All of them wrestle with financial hurdles in a system that is designed to put up barriers to their success. Getting off the street and into a safe, stable space is the first step toward dealing with the myriad issues they face.
The transition from the encampment to the Navigation Center has not been easy for anyone, not local government or Native agencies, not the newly-hired staff at the Center, and especially not the camp residents. The severe pressure brought on by increasingly frigid temperatures had everyone operating under extreme pressure and duress, and emotions ran high. But all involved continued to believe that progress was possible, that there were better days ahead, and that taking the first step towards change via the Navigation Center was worth every difficulty. Everyone knew this was a team effort on every level. We challenged ourselves to let go of fear and suspicion and the rumors that were constantly swirling around and simply trust each other. This got even harder when some activist groups began spreading rumors about police brutality and the Navigation Center being like a prison - or even more unconscionably - like a concentration camp.
I'm sad to say that we must continue to combat these rumors.
There are some in our community who continue to exploit our homeless relatives. They continue to spread rumor and innuendo to churn up anger and mistrust. They tell blatant lies or twist the truth beyond recognition. Does anyone reading this truly believe that there is no food or water for the residents of the Navigation Center? Does anyone believe that it is a prison and that the fence around the Center is there to keep people in - and not to keep drug dealers, domestic abusers, and other predators out?* Of course you don't believe this - it's nonsensical. But you are not the target audience. The vulnerable and homeless are the ones they hope are listening.
Opening a Navigation Center in just four months and in-taking 130+ residents in less than two weeks was a Herculean effort. Have there been a few bumps in the road? Yes. Are there some wrinkles still to iron out? Of course. Am I proud to have played even a small part in this? Hell, yes. What we have created is a dedicated path where our homeless relatives can take the first step towards what they need, and where each individual is free to determine what is right for them. It might be health care; it might be in-patient chemical dependency treatment; it might be training, or a job, or subsidized housing. A Navigation Center is not a 'shelter' in the traditional sense - it is safe and warm place for unsheltered homeless to live while pro-active steps are taken to assist them in re-stabilizing their own lives.
There are those who are telling the homeless and vulnerable that life on the freezing streets is better than staying in the Navigation Center - where food, hot showers, a warm bed, housing, mental health and CD services are always available. This continued, intentional, destabilization of the most vulnerable among us is one of the most troubling things I have ever witnessed.
I call on all in our community to stand up for the truth and not give in to the bullies and so-called activists who bang the drum of judgement and negativity, all the while offering no viable alternative. Their efforts are misguided, self-aggrandizing, and dangerous. Our homeless relatives need us to be calm and present in the face of this madness. Let's not let them down.
* Residents can come and go as they please, 24 hours a day. No one is locked in the Navigation Center at any time.
Some of the last tents remaining at the encampment in the final week.
The very last area of the camp to be cleared of trash and debris.