Trouble in dystopia

Heading downtown Minneapolis several times a week, we watched a so-called homeless encampment grow on a small strip of land along Hiawatha Avenue just before it funnels traffic downtown onto Seventh Street. A tribute to the broken-windows theory of policing, the encampment grew up virtually overnight. Bordering a subsidized Native American housing complex, residents of the encampment reflect the Indian tilt of their neighbors. At one point we saw teepees join the tents.

As the encampment turned into a shithole, municipal authorities jumped to it. They moved four port-o-potties onto a fringe of the strip. That didn’t do anything to clean up the detritus of addiction that littered the grounds. It was something like an attractive nuisance.

The encampment is illegal. Nevertheless, as Chris Serres noted in the Star Tribune last week: “From the beginning, Minneapolis city and Indian leaders made a strategic decision to embrace the encampment as part of a wider effort to combat homelessness, and to avoid punitive measures that would only drive people further into the shadows.”

The encampment is not only illegal, it is an open-air drug den. Between September and November four residents of the encampment died of overdoses. The Star Tribune quoted the father of one of the deceased: “It’s a drug house without walls and everyone knows it.” Yet the encampment continued to grow, spilling over the small strip of land on which it originated.

The Star Tribune has provided sympathetic coverage supporting the encampment since it first started reporting on it. The paper portrayed the encampment as providing a collegial environment that residents were unable to find in homeless shelters. The residents looked out for each other. Despite appearances, it was a supposedly beautiful thing.

Late last week, however, the Star Tribune found trouble in dystopia. Serres reported “Aid workers, others at Minneapolis homeless camp say they are fearful.” They are fearful of Natives Against Heroin, a nonprofit organization that seems to be ruling the roost in a most uncollegial manner.

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