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Man dies at Minneapolis experimental homeless shelter

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An experimental homeless shelter, known as the navigation center.
An experimental homeless shelter along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues, known as the "navigation center," soon after construction in December 2018. A man living at the shelter died Sunday night from an apparent opioid overdose.
Max Nesterak | MPR News

A man living at an experimental homeless shelter opened last month by the city and Red Lake Nation died there Sunday night from an apparent opioid overdose.

Todd "Julio" Weldon, 47, had been living at the homeless encampment along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues before moving to the nearby "navigation center" shelter, said his fiancee Teresa Graves, who confirmed Weldon's death. She described him as happy, caring and giving.

A ceremonial fire — a traditional Native American practice for honoring the dead — will burn for four days outside the shelter in memory of Weldon, who had family and cultural ties to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. 

"He cared a lot about his people. There's nothing he wouldn't do for somebody," Graves said. "His loyalty and his word meant everything."

Graves said Weldon began using heroin this year and overdosed in his bed in the navigation center.

Teresa Graves (center) is comforted by her friend
Teresa Graves, center, is comforted by her friend as she prepares to leave the tent encampment in December. Graves told MPR News Monday that Todd "Julio" Weldon, her fiance, died Sunday night from an apparent opioid overdose.
Max Nesterak | MPR News 2018

People living in the center say drug use is common there and overdoses are a daily occurrence. Many staff and residents carry the drug Narcan to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The city and Red Lake opened the emergency shelter last month as a way to temporarily house those from the homeless encampment over the winter and to help find them permanent housing.

Simpson Housing, the nonprofit that runs the shelter portion of the navigation center, could not be reached for comment.

David Bowen, a resident of the navigation center, drummed and sang by the fire Monday burning in Weldon's honor.

"Regardless of rain, sun, thunderstorm, this fire may not go out for four days. This helps them on their journey to the spirit world," Bowen said, who added they will also make offerings of tobacco and plates of food.

Three people died of fatal overdoses at the Franklin-Hiawatha homeless encampment from August until when it closed in December.

An estimated 401 people died in Minnesota from opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the latest data available from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Service providers are currently working on starting a Suboxone program at the navigation center for people trying to quit using opioids.

Correction (Jan. 8, 2019): Todd Weldon had family ties to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux. An earlier version of this story described him as a member.