Steve October 9, 2020

“We’re vulnerable every night. But at that instant, it takes faith,” he said. 

Williams criticized the park board’s decision to limit the size of the encampments to 25 tents given how dangerous it can be for people on their own. One day he broke down in tears about how he had to turn people away who wanted a place to stay because they were at capacity.

“How do you turn somebody down that has no place to go?” he said. 

‘We understand that the park is not a solution’

Many have been working hard to find more stable options for those living in the encampments. 

Samantha Pree-Stinson, a community activist and organizer who is Native American, facilitated an encampment for women, where the goal was to have everyone on some pathway to housing or treatment before the cold sets in. 

“We understand that the park is not a solution. We just connect people to the resources they need,” she said. “By the time the winter comes, every woman who has come through that encampment will have gotten the services that they need.” The encampment closed in early October.

Blake said there were plans to transition residents from Logan Park into a hotel in mid-October and in November. The volunteers would then help run a 24-hour shelter for the former park residents.

The sun sets over the tent encampment at Logan Park in Minneapolis on Aug. 16. (Ed Ou/NBC News)

The sun sets over the tent encampment at Logan Park in Minneapolis on Aug. 16. (Ed Ou/NBC News)

A resident in Logan Park plays with a turtle on Aug. 22. (Ed Ou/NBC News)

A resident in Logan Park plays with a turtle on Aug. 22. (Ed Ou/NBC News)

Other shelter plans have been in the works, too. In July, city and county officials announced they were using federal coronavirus aid in part to assist with the opening of three shelters with more than 100 beds serving three groups: women, Native Americans and medically frail homeless people leaving the hospital. 

Pree-Stinson said shelters or hotels aren’t immune from crime or violence and are sometimes considered unsafe by those they aim to help. The spaces are also not always run in culturally competent ways for racial minorities or the LGBTQ community, she said. 

“It’s not part of a pathway to get them to a more permanent secure housing, whether that’s buying a house or renting it, an apartment, a tiny home, a cooperative, whatever it might be,” she said. 

Indoor Villages represent one type of low-barrier solution: a community of 100 tiny homes that would have easy access to mental health services, drug dependency treatment and assistance in finding housing, for instance.  

“Indoor Villages is a bridge. You have your own tiny place and then you’ll be surrounded by services that you can use,” said Sheila Delaney, the housing advocate. Residents won’t be required to use those services if they aren’t ready and won’t risk losing their placement if they don’t, as in other programs.

The space could open in late November or early December thanks to initial funding allocated by the city, Delaney said. Approximately 250 to 300 people could cycle through the two-year pilot project program per year.

Another similar project, Envision, would create a community of about two dozen tiny homes. The population would break down to 20 percent people who are chronically homeless and have complex health needs, 60 percent people who have experienced housing instability and homelessness, and the remaining 20 percent people who have never experienced homelessness. 

A model for Envision, a proposed tiny homes project that would house a mix of people who have faced chronic homelessness, some homelessness/housing instability and never experienced homelessness. (Ed Ou/NBC News)

A model for Envision, a proposed tiny homes project that would house a mix of people who have faced chronic homelessness, some homelessness/housing instability and never experienced homelessness. (Ed Ou/NBC News)

“It’s this intentional mixture of people that creates a diverse social network from across the housing spectrum,” said Bill Walsh, a surgeon and an adviser for the project, which is pending on confirmed financing and location. 

David Hewitt, director of the Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness, said there were currently about 540 people 60 and older who have medical complications that had been staying in hotels for six months at the cost of $2.5 million per month, money that comes from the federal CARES Act funding, which is set to run out at the end of the year. 

“There’ve been unprecedented efforts this year,” he said, adding that the county was “stretching our service providers in ways we never have before in the face of multiple crises, and we all still fully acknowledge that it’s not enough.”

From January to June of this year, the county saw 1,363 exits from homelessness to permanent housing, a slight rise from the 1,269 from the same time period in 2019, according to county data. 

Overall, the county has allocated more than $35 million in CARES Act-related funds to address homelessness, including $10 million for hotels, $15 million in rental assistance, about $3.2 million for shelter rehabilitation, $3.5 million for a new shelter in partnership with the American Indian Community Development and another $3.5 million for the recent purchase of a motel and former treatment facility to house people experiencing homelessness, Hewitt said.

“The underlying housing crisis that predated Covid meant that there are tens of thousands of households that simply have no way of affording housing in our market,” Hewitt said. 

‘Anybody can be homeless’

Across a bridge from Logan, Latrice Steward lived at Beltrami Park with her three children, ages 1, 6 and 14, and her partner, Jerome, who works nights at a major delivery company. The family, who are Black, are experiencing homelessness for the first time and were making do in a blue and orange tent.

Before she lived in the park, Steward worked on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, tending to nursing home residents in Minneapolis as a certified nursing assistant. 

Steward, 34, would spend time with elderly residents of nursing homes, some of whom had dementia. She dressed and fed them, helping them use the bathroom and turning them to avoid bedsores. The job came with a fair share of heartache, as three people died from Covid-19 at the facility where she worked.

She described watching patients die, gasping for air when the day before she had seen them “playing cards at the table, drinking your coffee, doing your hair.”

“That’s the hardest part of Covid,” she said. “That hit me.”

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