Community groups have helped place 114 formerly homeless people in permanent housing since October, when residents of the massive tent encampment in south Minneapolis moved into a temporary shelter.
It’s not ending homelessness, but it’s a start, according to advocates.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Red Lake Nation members, representatives of Avivo — a human services organization — and other community advocates came together in Avivo’s Chicago Avenue headquarters Tuesday to celebrate finding housing for people from the encampment and the shelter, called the Navigation Center.
Frey touted the “extraordinary partnership” among the groups while admitting the situation was “the most complex” issue he dealt with in his first year in office.
“We were witnessing people who had undoubtedly been experiencing homelessness before, but it was now visible,” Frey said. “And that visibility forced us to ask the question, ‘Are we going to sit on our hands? Is this something that is acceptable in our city or do we believe that housing is a right?’ ”
The event comes only weeks before the scheduled May 31 closure of the Navigation Center, which was set up to disband the homeless encampment along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues last year. Earlier this month, officials revealed at a public meeting that half the people who left the temporary homeless shelter have found permanent housing but the rest ended up in jail, back on the streets or no one knows where they are. Two people at the center have died from overdoses.
Kelly Matter, president and CEO of Avivo, said that her organization, Red Lake Nation and other partner organizations still have to find housing for about 90 people from the Navigation Center and the encampment, known as the Wall of the Forgotten Natives, to connect them with mental health and substance abuse services and job training.
“We know that we have not ended homelessness, but housing 114 people in less than six months, I think we’re doing our part,” Matter said.
Melissa Bringsthem, a member of Red Lake Nation, was one of the people who found housing with Avivo’s help. Bringsthem, 41, was living in the tent city toward the end of the summer after her fiancé died. She said between dealing with her alcoholism and depression, she found comfort living in the encampment because friends and family members were there. She moved into an apartment in October and has been sober since Halloween.
“I’m very happy with my little place; I’m peaceful,” Bringsthem said.
Amid outcry about the size of the encampment and freezing temperatures on the way, the Minneapolis City Council scrambled to approve $1.5 million last fall and coordinate with tribes and nonprofits to help move people to three heated tents on a property owned by the Red Lake Nation. The center initially took in 175 people.
Earlier this month, city officials said the cost of setting up and operating the Navigation Center had risen to $3.2 million.
After Tuesday’s event, Frey said the city is coordinating with other local governments in case another encampment shows up.
“I’m proud that the response that the partnership has had was one of compassion and of respect for the dignity of every human being, and that’s perhaps a different approach than we’ve had in the past,” Frey said.