BY ED FELIEN
Last week I sent the following email to Commissioners Angela Conley and Marion Greene, with a copy to David Hewitt, Office to End Homelessness, Director:
Thank you for the extraordinary work you are doing in finding homes for the homeless in our community. Purchasing hotels for the homeless in this hospitality market is a wonderful solution for the homeless and for the distressed hotel owners. Unfortunately, purchases take time and the current housing emergency requires urgent and immediate action. Could you negotiate a very favorable convention rate now at a downtown hotel for immediate occupancy? When could we begin sending people from Powderhorn Park to stay downtown?
Could you please contact Governor Walz and ask him to send some of the job counselors from the Lake and Chicago
Employment Services office down to the park to recruit people to fill jobs? These counselors could then give each person who fills out the three-page general application form a check for $600. If the person has difficulty with the form, then a literacy aide could help them and teach them to read and write. We know illiteracy is the greatest indicator of joblessness, poverty, frustration and, ultimately, anti-social and criminal activity. We should have assistance in this effort from the Minneapolis Public Schools Adult Education and Enrichment Program.
Commissioner Conley, we appreciate the leadership you have shown in coordinating intra-government agencies. Could you request Hennepin County staff with the Methadone Maintenance Program go down to the encampment and counsel some of the residents with programs that help resolve social problems resulting from addiction? Would it be possible to have a portable clinic in the park building that could administer
methadone once a day? There is a problem with needles in the neighborhood and drug overdoses.
Security is a major concern at the encampment. We should be providing unarmed security, and the county should be hiring residents to help with security and then training them for employment as security guards. As you know there was a shooting death just a half a block away in the 3400 block of Elliot. All residents should feel safe and protected. It is essential that all security for the residents be controlled by Action Now Powderhorn Sanctuaries and the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association. Hennepin County has an important role in supporting these organizations.
The beginning of summer is the time we must begin to think about the beginning of winter. At some point we must think about moving this encampment indoors. The City of Minneapolis owns a number of buildings that could be useful for indoor mass encampments: The Roof Depot and the Vikings Stadium are two sites close at hand that could accommodate a large encampment. We rely on your good offices to coordinate with the city to secure a suitable indoor site for the fall.
These are some of our concerns regarding the Powderhorn Sanctuary. We would value working with you to resolve these problems.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
With the support of 15 members of Action Now Powderhorn Sanctuary Facebook page, I received a form letter response from David Hewitt. It was essentially the same letter he had sent to homeless activists, filled with praise for the work the county is doing, horror at the enormity of the problem and sadness at the lack of funding.
Commissioners Conley and Greene and Director Hewitt:
We are not asking for cosmic answers and universal truths. We need your urgent attention to immediate problems happening now in Powderhorn Park.
When can we expect the homeless in the Powderhorn Sanctuary to find temporary shelter in one of our now unused downtown hotels? Surely you can shift enough items around in the budget to accommodate this humanitarian crisis.
Can’t someone from Hennepin County call the governor or Employment Services and get someone down to the sanctuary to tell the residents about job opportunities? Asking them to fill out a three-page general job application would give us a chance to screen for literacy and offer literacy tutoring.
There is an urgent need for a satellite methadone clinic at the sanctuary to provide services to the homeless. Why isn’t that being done?
Does the county have an unarmed public safety coordinator at the site?
Will you assist in finding indoor tent space for the coming winter?
Please allow us to share your success with these programs.