NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Friday May 27th 2022

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Phillips Community Listening Session Focused on Encampments

By JANA METGE, JAMES TRICE and DONNA PUSUSTA NESTE

On March 30, a meeting entitled “A Listening Session About Encampments in Phillips and Minneapolis” organized by a Phillips Neighborhood group calling themselves Phillips Neighborhood Safety Coalition took place at the East Phillips Park Community and Cultural Center. Facilitator James Trice, a resident of Phillips for 25 years, welcomed all and went over the ground rules for a respectful meeting, which it was. 78 people signed in, however there were an estimated 100 in attendance. AIM Patrol members mingled with the crowd to let everyone know they were welcome and that their presence was important. Attendees were invited to add printed materials to an information table in which various perspectives were represented, from a harm reduction model for safe injection sites to a draft on policy and procedure for encampments.

Five community members gave testimony on their experiences with encampments. Mike Forcia, a leader in the AIM Patrol, spoke on healing the Native community and the Dakota land we are on, and on the need for jobs, culturally specific programs for youth, as well as culturally specific treatment centers for addiction, mental health, and historical trauma. He said that we can build a hundred little houses, but his people won’t leave the camps unless their opioid addictions are addressed.

Joani Essenburg, resident of Phillips and founder of Banyan Youth Center, related how her anger was initially focused upon those living in encampments, but changed into frustration with the government’s lack of response. She spoke of the need for the government not to ignore what is happening and instead provide for encampment residents’ basic needs.

Desmond McCloud, a youth and former resident of the Near North camp, spoke of his struggle with addiction and the need for dignified housing which is safe, healthy, and provides support services for those struggling to get clean.

Kent Bakken, a neighbor to the camp on 14th Avenue and 26th Street, spoke about violence against both neighbors and camp residents that resulted from the encampment being taken over by the drug and sex trade. He told of cars racing and being set up to dispense narcotics on the streets around the encampment, and how the area was turned into an open-air drug market.

Diedra Nass, neighbor of the encampment off 13th Avenue and 25th Street and a mother of five, spoke about the impact of the camp on her children and her in-laws, who live in a house across from her, as well as on her neighbors, both housed and unhoused. She described treating a camper’s third degree burn and the level of addiction she witnessed at the encampment, as well as the violence and property damage caused by drug dealers operating at the site.

After the testimony, a presentation was given on “Six Solutions” advocated by the group, which are:

  1. Designation of high sensitivity areas*
  2. New scripts and adequate staffing for 911/311
  3. Appointment of members and staff to a homeless advisory board
  4. Creation of safe outdoor spaces/little houses
  5. Immediate access and funding for on-site violence interrupters
  6. A 30 day first reading of a fair and equitable encampment response policy

*areas where the impacts of encampments are heightened

A handout that detailed each solution accompanied the “Six Solutions” presentation.

Following the testimonies and presentation, elected officials in attendance were invited to speak, beginning with Ward 9 City Council member Jason Chavez. Chavez committed to working on the Six Solutions with the City, and pledged to draft an encampment policy for the City Council to review within 30 days.

The speakers who followed were Mayor Jacob Frey, State Representatives Hodan Hassan and Aisha Gomez, State Senator Omar Fateh, Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley, and Hennepin County Director of Housing Stability David Hewitt. The focus was on issues of homelessness, homeless encampments, drug addiction, and possible solutions. Each committed to working on the issues through policy changes and strategies they believe will help meet the needs of the homeless and mitigate the harmful effects of encampments on other city residents (homeowners, renters, and business owners). A prevailing message from all lawmakers was “we can do better.”

The evening concluded with a request to everyone present to contact legislators and urge their support for the Clyde Bellecourt Urban Indigenous Legacy Initiative, which would fund badly needed new construction for 12 American Indian organizations (including MIGIZI, which burned down in the civil uprising of 2020), and the building of a culturally specific treatment center. At the door, a handout was given with a written script and state legislators’ contact information.

The organizers offered the opportunity for attendees to make their voices heard by writing down their thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and concerns on post-it notes and attaching them to large pieces of paper hung on the walls of the room. These ideas and suggestions have been added to an existing spreadsheet, “Municipal Encampment Policy Ideas – MLPS focus,” which can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3MHNPU8

Ideas and suggestions offered by attendees

  • Make 411 the homeless response office phone.
  • Possible incentives: Expunge Convictions, Free Housing, Employment.
  • Ice Dome for cold and hot weather.
  • Do incentives exist for people experiencing homelessness to address addiction through long-term treatment?
  • Tiny homes on Wheels – Oakland.
  • Shower Busses – San Francisco.
  • No policies banning encampments or fires, etc. until policies putting people in homes come first.
  • End violent encampment evictions.
  • Encampment evictions are not an answer.
  • An overdose prevention site which would reduce HIV and other infections in the community
  • Reduce overdoses, link people to care and treatment, reduce the number of people kicked out of shelters.
  • Use indoors tennis courts – they have AC & Heat, showers, toilets, and front desk to check in.
  • Wilder Foundation reported “chronic health conditions,” mental illness, substance abuse, or traumatic brain injury comprises 83% of homeless adults. Q: What is the city doing for these?
  • Harm reduction saves lives.
  • Mayor talked about it like it was a housing problem BUT it’s a drug problem.
  • Safe – Use sites! More harm reduction.
  • We need harm reduction housing, overdose prevention sites, and include those who will utilize these services in the program design conversations!
  • Funding for harm reduction resources.
  • Supervised use site/overdose prevention site.
  • Overdose prevention sites reduce syringe litter, reduce public infections, reduce overdose deaths. There has never been a death at an opsiscs. NYC now has 2 legal overdose prevention sites with increased access to treatment.
  • New fuel jobs clean the air, release oxygen hydrogen fuel for your homes and cars.
  • Focus on supportive and preventative policies (health, housing, etc.), no more punitive, reactionary policies (police evictions).

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