Homelessness, drug use rife at Native American tent city

Oct 24, 2018 | News

At a tent city for homeless people in Minneapolis, the path is strewn with used syringes. Some are shooting up in the open. Dozens have been found unconscious. At least two have died.

Most of the more than 200 people here are Native Americans, who have spontaneously gathered since the spring in this otherwise economically prosperous city.

The existence of the camp against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers is shining a light on a homelessness crisis sparked by a lack of affordable housing, mental health care and drug addiction treatment.

Native Americans are disproportionately affected in all cases.

“It’s a lot of historical trauma — that’s passed on generation to generation — of hopelessness and defeat. And a lot of people turn to drugs and alcohol,” Keiji Narikawa, a volunteer at the camp, told AFP.

“The addiction itself has caused people to lose their homes, disconnect from their family, their children, their culture.”

– ‘Wall of Forgotten Natives’ –

Residents call their tent city the “Wall of Forgotten Natives.”

It has cropped up along a wall separating a highway from a low-income housing complex popular with Native Americans.

“A lot of our Native American brothers and sisters don’t feel safe or comfortable going to the shelters that we have — because of harassment or discrimination,” said Narikawa.

He is a volunteer with Natives Against Heroin, a group that has set up tents in the middle of the encampment to help addicts and drive away drug dealers.

Many of those living here are addicted to opioid painkillers or heroin — victims of a drug abuse epidemic that has afflicted an estimated two million Americans.

Angela Senogles, herself homeless for five years and a recovering addict, distributes clean needles in the tent city.

She also administers the life-saving drug naloxone — which blocks the effects of opioids, especially in cases of overdose.

“We’ve saved 10 people here so far,” the 55-year-old Senogles said. “It’s like we’re all family, and we all take care of each other.”

One of the two people who have died in the camp was a Native American woman in her 50s — who overdosed on opioids.

– ‘Permanent homes’ –

Native Americans make up just one percent of Minnesota’s population but six percent of the state’s homeless, according to a 2015 survey.

The high-profile tent city has forced officials to confront the problem. They are working to find permanent housing for residents before the region’s typically harsh winter weather sets in.

“The real target here needs to be homes — permanent homes,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in August. “Housing is a right. It should be a right for everyone.”

Social workers have been interviewing the camp’s residents to determine their needs and some have been moved out, according to local media reports.

But initial plans to clear out the encampment by the end of September have been pushed back.

“We’re standing up and saying ‘Hey!'” Senogles said.

“I hope everybody gets housing. I pray they do.”

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