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Excelsior-area residents donate to homeless camp

‘Where is the forgiveness?’

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Caravan of Care 2

From left are Frank Downwind, Tim Duff, Gregory Larson and Marin Hardy. Downwind and Hardy are with the American Indian Community Development Corp., which offers its services to more than the Native American community.

MINNEAPOLIS — Thermals, boots, socks, handwarmers. These are some of what’s sought at the homeless encampment in the Little Earth neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Landlords with available properties, too, said Marin Hardy with the American Indian Community Development Corp., the nonprofit organizing support to the camp.

“It’s a crisis years in the making,” said Frank Downwind, also with the AICDC.

Residents from the Lake Minnetonka area delivered donations on Wednesday, Nov. 21. In addition to the ones listed above, they brought blankets, propane tanks, camp stoves, coats, cushions, towels and nonperishable food, among other things. The idea sprung out of the post-election meeting of Lake Minnetonka Living Liberally. While they were celebrating DFL Party victories, they felt bad about the homeless and needy. So they took action, said Tim Duff, the group’s organizer and a Tonka Bay resident.

Caravan of Care 1

Tim Duff and Gregory Larson load boxes and bags of donations into Larson’s Toyota sport-utility vehicle.

People brought their donations to Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior on Nov. 21, and Duff and Gregory Larson of Shorewood took the items in Larson’s Toyota 4Runner to the camp on the strip of land near where Hiawatha Avenue passes over Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.

While there, they discussed recent developments with Downwind and Hardy, such as St. Paul evicting the Cathedral Hill homeless camp in mid-November, which caused the Little Earth camp to grow. It had declined to under 200 with the cold but grew to over 300 after St. Paul’s action.

“They came here because of our services,” Downwind said.

Caravan of Care 3

Gregory Larson of Shorewood opens the AICDC tent as Frank Downwind manages a cart of donations. The goods were sorted and distributed fairly to residents of the homeless camp.

He noted that if anyone was facing freezing temperatures, the first thing on their mind would be to find available help.

He said the camp also faces problems from opioid dealers. He noted the Nov. 19 fire that burned 10 tents was caused by a meth dealer who had about 60 propane canisters — and probably was dealing canisters, too. The fire was ruled accidental.

He said AICDC offers a continuum of care without judgment.

“We take the high road,” Downwind said. “It’s not just them in their tent. It’s their entire life in their tent.”

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Frank Downwind, center, takes Tim Duff and Gregory Larson on a quick tour of the camp. Duff asked whether the city was OK with the wood fires, and Downwind said probably not but it allows them anyway.

Some people need assistance with housing. Some seek employment. Some need detoxification. Some need a variety of services to get back on their feet.

“There are some who just need a little push,” Downwind said.

Downwind said the Minneapolis Fire Department thankfully inspects the camp for fire hazards quite often.

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Members of the camp were used to people walking down the center, but one group was wary of media members. When asked why, some said they were unhappy with Fox 9.

The goods Duff and Larson brought were dropped off at an AICDC warming tent across the street from the camp, where volunteers sort the items and ensure they are distributed equitably.

Downwind said some people at the camp indeed work but still find themselves homeless because they cannot find living wages as rents escalate.

Hardy and Downwind praised the city of Minneapolis for moving fast to set up the Navigation Center, a place the homeless can stay over the winter.

“They were working at warp speed,” Downwind said.

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Frank Downwind shows Tim Duff a stall in a restroom trailer that is next to the warming tent across Franklin Street from the homeless camp. The same trailer — which has showers, sinks and toilets — will be at the Navigation Center.

It is at 2109 Cedar Ave., a 1.25-acre site with parcels owned by the Red Lake Nation and the city. It is a foundation that will have a tented dome, like an all-season tennis court, over the top, and it can be kept warm. The $1.5 million cost is being funded by the city and a donor, he said. It should open in early December.

That solves the issue until May, when the Red Lake Nation begins construction on a 62-unit multi-family development. Hardy said it is likely the Hiawatha camp returns once the Nav Center closes.

She asked congregations that wish to help not only could donate handwarmers and clothing but also work with members who are landlords.

Hardy said the AICDC receives a lot of support from St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka, which has a long history of Native outreach.

She said she appreciates how the camp has brought much-needed attention to the problem of homelessness in the Twin Cities. She wishes people could get past the politics and stigma of ending up homeless. She herself faced addictions and homelessness and has recovered.

“We’ve made our mistakes. Yes, we own it, but where is the forgiveness?” she asked.

She noted the need to address homelessness through the suburbs as well at the urban core.

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Minneapolis police maintain a surveillance camera on Franklin Avenue, which ducks beneath Hiawatha Avenue right by the homeless camp.

Right now, there are no children living in the camp. Hardy said there had been a mom with five children who had a Section 8 voucher but, because of the kids, property managers wouldn’t rent to her. She now has a home.

Downwind said the Minneapolis police seem to have an unwritten rule to be hands off and not cite anyone. He said there was an assault with people willing to make statements. Police came, but nothing came of it.

North regional editor

Tim Engstrom is the north regional editor for the Lakeshore, Eden Prairie, Chanhassen and Chaska papers. He is passionate about outdoor and community reporting and is direct and solutions-oriented. He enjoys being with family, disc golf and cycling.

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