With Navigation Center closed, another encampment grows

A strapless bra, a large stuffed teddy bear, and a red blanket draped over a sustaining wall - those are just a few items that mark a growing homeless encampment along the busy South 17th Avenue and Cedar Avenue intersection now that the Navigation Center is officially closed. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey Monday held a press conference in St. Paul inside the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to address the center’s success. Of the 176 people the Navigation Center housed since December, 84 were connected to housing, nursing homes or treatment programs by June 3.

While most homeless shelters have a 15 percent success rate, the navigation center had a 52 percent success rate, Frey affirmed. This past weekend, however, 25 people remained at the center, which is why to Frey and others the new tent city is no surprise.

“We have been in constant communication with advocates with those who’ve experienced homelessness, with public health officials, and the conclusion that we’ve come to is that large scale encampments are not safe,” Frey said. “Not for the people living in them or the general public.” 

Over the last three years, homelessness has risen by 10 percent in Minnesota. In the metro, homelessness has increased by 55 percent in the last year alone. 

Chief Seki of Red Lake Nation, whose Native tribe owns the land where the Navigation Center operated asked everyone to remember homelessness is not merely a byproduct of one’s criminal history or drug addiction.

“Rent is so high here in the metropolitan area, they couldn’t afford it. So the end up homeless, they end up in the tent city,” Chief Seki nodded.

Other partners who made the Navigation Center possible confirm they’re developing both a regional and statewide plan to address homelessness as a growing humanitarian crisis. Details about that plan remain unveiled.

County leaders, meanwhile, mentioned a plan to create 1000 units of affordable housing by 2030. Ten years from now.

Heading Home Hennepin to approach encampments 

Heading Home Hennepin is an initiative led by Mayor Frey and Hennepin County District 4 Commissioner Angela Conley. Commissioner Conley, who experienced her own stint of housing insecurity, told FOX 9 the initiative aims to pick up where the navigation center leaves off.

“Hennepin County is on the streets each and every day, we’re working to connect the homeless to services and support,” Conley said. “These are people who don’t have a place to go, for whom we haven’t made our shelter spaces safe enough for people to go so sleeping outside is what’s safe for them.”

Intent to apply the lessons learned since the Navigation Center opened in December, Conley shared the initiative is a better, more coordinated response.

“People are in tents with their loved ones and their pets and if we don’t have shelters that can accommodate for that, and if we don’t have enough permanent, supportive, service rich housing at the end of coming out of shelter than we continue to see the numbers grow,” she added.

Touting an empathetic process, Commissioner Conley adds Heading Home Hennepin meets the homeless where they are.

“We’re proactive, we’re humane about how we approach encampments, we’re not criminalizing homelessness, we can bring out services right away, so this is really the task Heading Home Hennepin has wrapped itself around recently.”

The approach aims to ultimately make sure homelessness is very brief, rare and non-reoccurring. 

“If we’re able to have those conversations with people where they’re at then we can find where that barrier is and then address it,” Conley nodded.

The regional and statewide plan to address homelessness is one Mayor Frey also mentioned will go through Heading Home Hennepin.