'A roof over our heads': Native leaders urge officials to address homelessness

Two people stand in front of a mural.
American Indian Movement founder Clyde Bellecourt, right, stands next to AIM executive director Lisa Bellanger after a press conference about the Wall of Forgotten Natives in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Native American activists say homeless people in Minneapolis will return to live at a ramp to a state highway because they have nowhere else to go.

The area around Hiawatha and Franklin avenues south of downtown Minneapolis was the site of a major encampment in 2018. The space — known as the Wall of Forgotten Natives — had been fenced off, but when a nearby encampment was cleared earlier this week, about 20 people entered the site again.

Native leaders said there are no suitable alternatives and city park restrictions limit where people can go. Robert Lilligren, with the Minnesota Urban Indian Directors, said government help is the only alternative.

“We need our elected and appointed leadership at all levels — those who control the resources and policy — to step in, to accept responsibility, to work with us, to help us, to help save lives,” Lilligren said during a press conference Thursday.

Terysa Dircks, one of the people who moved to the Hiawatha site, said she lost her house about four years ago and has been living on the street. She and people like her, Dircks said, are simply being shuffled around the city.

A woman in a blue shirt holds a microphone.
Terysa Dircks, who lives in the encampment off of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, speaks during a press conference about the camp on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

“We’ve been told no so many times, shut down so many times,” she said. “There is no way that you could ever understand the impact it has on our lives, to have to see our people shunned, pushed around, forgotten about.”

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Hennepin County officials say there are unused shelter beds available every night, and both the county and the city of Minneapolis have pledged $8 million in long-term housing for the homeless. That includes a 50-bed shelter to support Native Americans that is due to open in December.

But Sharon Day, executive director of the Indigenous People’s Task Force, said the city should turn over a proposed public works site on Hiawatha Avenue.

“Every single one of us wants to be productive. We wish to have a place to cook a meal, have a roof over our heads, and visit with our relatives. Give us the Roof Depot,” Day said.

A city spokesperson said the roof warehouse activists want to convert to a shelter may be too polluted to be safe.