Help is on the way for large homeless encampment in south Minneapolis

Aug 16, 2018 | News

“Unprecedented” effort will offer assistance on housing, medical care, drug treatment.

A hastily formed coalition of medical and social service agencies plans a major outreach effort Friday at a homeless camp in south Minneapolis that has alarmed local authorities and American Indian leaders because of its growing size and health risks.

Health and social workers plan to sweep through the sprawling settlement, offering to help the tent dwellers find housing, medical care and other social services in a concerted push before any attempt by the state to force people off the site, which is situated on land owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

The tent compound, near the intersection of Hiawatha and Cedar Avenues in south Minneapolis, has grown rapidly this summer and is now believed to be the largest homeless encampment ever seen in Minnesota. Groups organizing Friday’s effort include Hennepin County Health Care for the Homeless, St. Stephen’s Human Services and People Incorporated Mental Health Services.

The agencies involved said the unusual effort reflects a growing concern that many of the more than 60 people living at the camp are suffering from serious illnesses and substance-use problems. The encampment has several known cases of a drug-resistant infection from bacteria known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which can lead to sepsis, pneumonia, bloodstream infections and death. There are also reports of hepatitis C, sexually transmitted illnesses and scabies. Heroin and methamphetamine use is widespread in and around the site, which is littered with used needles.

“This is challenging us to think differently, because what we have been doing is not working,” said David Hewitt, director of the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness. “This represents a concentrated and cumulative effort that is, to some extent, unprecedented.”

The sprawling encampment has, almost overnight, thrown a light on the depth of Minnesota’s opioid epidemic, particularly in the local Indian community, and the challenges that local officials face in helping the city’s growing population of homeless adults.

“This is challenging us to think differently, because what we have been doing is not working,” said David Hewitt, director of the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness. “This represents a concentrated and cumulative effort that is, to some extent, unprecedented.”

The sprawling encampment has, almost overnight, thrown a light on the depth of Minnesota’s opioid epidemic, particularly in the local Indian community, and the challenges that local officials face in helping the city’s growing population of homeless adults.

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