On June 16th, I attended the Powderhorn Park community meeting regarding the growing encampment in the park’s Northwest and Northeast sections. These spaces have become a refuge for unhoused people in Minneapolis. Commentary was generally as one would expect, ranging from occasional fear mongering to calls for “housing as a human right.” Overall though, the community members in attendance were very supportive of their new neighbors in the park.
The day prior, I had spent the entire morning and early afternoon helping out at the encampment in the Northeast section. Everyone in the encampment was friendly, with many folks just looking to have light conversation, others looking to grab some hot food and be on their way to a friend’s to do laundry or head off to work.
Many of the people are newly unhoused, some said that they became “homeless” within the past two months for the first time in their lives. One person said they lost their housing due to fires, and another man stated he became “homeless” only after being released from prison just a few months ago.
I came to the park with grief regarding what happened over the last several weeks.
Powderhorn Park is a south Minneapolis neighborhood well known for its cultural diversity, quirky personality and “All Are Welcome” yard signs. It has long been viewed as a progressive refuge in an already overwhelmingly liberal city. It is also now home to a large number of burned down buildings in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Among the buildings burned across the southside, was one that was home to an organization very close to my heart. MIGIZI, among other things, serves Native American Youth in south Minneapolis by harboring and promoting their creativity. I was fortunate enough to attend the Native Academy program at MIGIZI the summer before starting my freshman year at South High School. They helped me discover and love my Indigenious identity in a way that I couldn’t have comprehended at 14 years old.
Despite what MIGIZI has meant to me, it was ultimately just a building, and they will find a way to move forward. There are however, people at this moment in time who do not currently have an equitable and just path forward. People whose very existence is infinitely more valuable and important than buildings. Some of those people are now sheltered in tents at the newest encampment in south Minneapolis.
As the meeting was nearing a close, I had continued to sit on some thoughts I had regarding the concerns and solutions (or lack thereof) of those who spoke up. Because I was raised in the diversity of Powderhorn, I am viscerally aware of the space that I take up as someone who navigates the world as a white person. Because of that, it was not my intent to speak that day, instead I had planned to sit back and listen.
As person after person spoke on the microphone, I couldn’t help but feel like so many people who wanted to see positive change, were simply missing what was right in front of us all. So after hearing yet another call for writing elected officials, and albeit progressive, yet still neoliberal responses to systemic issues that are only exacerbated by the system of capitalism itself, I had decided to say what had not yet been said.
The exploitation of poor and working-class people, many of whom are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and immigrants, are not executed exclusively by delusional right-wing Trump supporters. It is also coming at the hands of people with “Black Lives Matter” and “All Are Welcome” yard signs. It’s coming at the hands of people voting and campaigning for “progressive” Democrats onto the City Council. It’s coming at the hands of people who believe they’re doing good.
In the weeks since the abhorrent murder of George Floyd by former MPD officer Derek Chauvin and his 3 accomplices, that took place a mere blocks from this encampment, there has been a stark contrast in the entire City Council’s words and policy platforms.
On one hand, I understand the call for every single City Council Member to stand in solidarity and support not only sweeping police reforms, but also budgetary allocation for more housing. The problematic nature of this request starts and ends with one question. Has the City Council actually done anything besides dish out platitudes to prove that they are interested in deconstructing the system that not only allows, but demands poverty, exploitation and police violence?
I hear their calls for “dismantling” the MPD, but what does that mean to them? Are these simply attempts at quelling a city in trauma? I’d love to give them the benefit of the doubt, and it appears that many other community members are doing just that.
But we can’t ignore that this is the same City Council that just this past December, approved the 2020 city budget that increased police spending by $8.5 million, or 4.5%. So what’s caused the City Council to change their tune? Police violence is nothing new to the City of Minneapolis. Since 2001, the MPD has killed 34 people, and their history of violence, discrimination and harassment has long been documented.
Where were the calls for “dismantling” the MPD from council members during the 2020 budget hearings? Certainly, they were already aware of the city’s long history of racist and violent policing.
The 2020 budget allocates a whopping $193.3 million dollars to the Minneapolis Police Department. The amount of money allocated to public housing in that same budget? Just $31 million dollars,which is just 16% of the funding they put towards policing. This doesn’t strike me as a resources issue, it is merely a priority issue from the City Council. S
o why do we view City Council Members as the solution, when they clearly show us where their priorities lie? Within the 2020 budget, there are words of enthusiasm for Minneapolis, calling it a “thriving city,” with low unemployment hovering around 2.5%. What these numbers don’t show, is that about 1 in every 5 Minneapolis residents makes less than $20,000/year, while the average income is just under $35,000/year.
An important note for clarity, is that the annual salary of a Minneapolis City Council Member is $98,696/year. Clearly employment is not only inequitable, but employment is also not at all an indicator of one’s ability to survive in this city.
With so many residents either unemployed or underemployed, the solution cannot simply be building housing and homeless shelters. Who’s to say that housing will even be accessible to the residents who need it most? So many “affordable” housing programs in new complexes built across the city are muddled with bureaucratic red tape, so how can we expect this to be a solution to those with minimal resources at their disposal?
Providing housing to every single person without shelter is critical and a must. But the uncomfortable conversation needs to be about what the root causes of this crisis are. It is ugly, but it is crucial that we understand that this issue is systemic. It is intertwined in a million different ways, with each symptom causing the other to be harder and harder to cure.
When it comes to racial disparities, the State of Minnesota ranks dead last in high school graduation rates among Black and white students. The poverty rate in the Twin Cities is only 5.9% – for white people. While the Black poverty rate is 25%. The incarceration rate, which affects people’s ability to get jobs, housing and causes a lifetime of stigmatization, is 11 times higher for Black people than it is for white people.
We can’t forget the most common generational wealth building tool at working class people’s disposal: home ownership. Of course, we can’t talk about home ownership in Minneapolis without mentioning the revolting history of racial covenants and redlining that were a systematic part of this city’s development after its violent colonization. These can only be described as systematic issues of oppression, and they all affect one another. We cannot continue to pretend like solving the issue of living unhoused is simply about housing.
So, what is housing, when you don’t have access to free mental health services or the ability to visit a doctor without going bankrupt? What is housing alone, when that housing accounts for half of your income? What is housing when you don’t have reliable transportation? Or when you’re now discriminated against as someone who was formerly incarcerated? What is housing when you still face the dilemma of paying for diapers, groceries or your gas bill this month?
Housing is not simply an issue of just housing. Housing is an issue of creating equity and justice in education, employment opportunities and wages, healthcare, the judicial system, policing, food access, childcare and much more. So why is the progressive base of Minneapolis calling for reactionary stop gaps, instead of proactive, systematic solutions? The answer is simple, but the truth is uncomfortable.
It’s easier to pretend that throwing up yard signs, writing elected officials and “voting blue” are revolutionary acts, than it is to acknowledge that the very system we are participating in and defending, is actually the cause.
Anthony is currently unemployed, and enjoys watching soccer. Anthony is from a working-class family, and was raised in South Mpls.