By Dennis Sanders
Beacon was one of many organizations working to support people in the Franklin-Hiawatha Encampment. Working with the Red Lake Nation and one of our service providers, Avivo, Beacon has been able to move more than a dozen people from the Encampment into our apartment building, American House. American House is permanent supportive housing where Avivo, a mental health provider, has on-site staff to engage with people coming out of chronic homelessness into their new home. American House staff connects them with the resources to not only keep their home but to rebuild hope. American House follows “Housing First” approach which brings people with mental health and chemical dependency challenges into housing and wraps around intensive services to support a move toward healthy stability. . “It’s easier to engage with the support services we’ll provide once the chaos of living on the street – or in a tent – is alleviated by the security of a home,” said Lee Blons, Beacon Executive Director, in a December 2018 interview. ”
When the Encampment exploded in population in August, Tthe Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe got involved in bringing tribal leadership and resources to partner in solving the crisis.
A majority of the residents in the Encampment are Native American, and Alicia Gehlert, Director of Economic Development and Planning for the tribe notes that this was not by accident. She says that decades of historic policies by the United States Federal Government affected Native Americans negatively. “A lot of the issues that we now face as Native Americans are an effect of the Indian Relocation Act, assimilation acts, and the efforts made by the federal government to terminate Native American people,” she said. “The Encampment was a very noticeable way to bring these issues into the public light.”
Red Lake Nation contracted with Beacon and Avivo to help the former residents of the Encampment as they settle into American House and private landlords. “The ability to work with Beacon and Avivo has allowed us to work with experienced service providers in the Metro area,” Gehlert said. It is through this partnership that Gehlert believes the tribe was able to establish trust with the clients being served, which made it easier to get a large number of people housed in a short timeframe. “Working with Avivo and Beacon has also allowed us access to training for our own people so we can build our own capacity to serve this population.”
Avivo, a social services provider that offers chemical, mental health, employment services and components partners with Beacon to provide on-site case management at American House, Kimball Court and Lydia Apartments. “We have offices near the encampment and we mobilized 30-plus of our case managers to visit The Wall and begin to connect individuals to treatment, mental health services, and housing supports,” Emily Bastian, Director of Care Coordination at Avivo said. “Due to our efforts on the ground, we were contacted by Red Lake Nation to put skill behind their vision to house 100 people from the encampment in four to six months.”
But that goal has at times been difficult to attain. Because a number of the residents had checkered rental histories, it could be hard to persuade landlords to consider renting to them. Bastian notes what made American House key to success attractive is the fact that together we have a shared philosophy of Housing First. At American House, staff “ provides person-centered, supportive services based on a Housing First model. This means we prioritize securing housing as the first step toward establishing and working on individual and family goals. We have a trusted relationship and partner together around helping individuals attain and keep their housing.”
Blons notes that collaborating congregations are taking part in a donation drive to help the newcomers to American House become established in their new homes. “We are thankful for Mayflower Church in Minneapolis for coordinating the donation drive and for the many congregations in the collaborative who have donated materials,” Blons said.
But this is just the beginning “Beacon is putting out the call to create Housing First supportive housing in Minneapolis. For the sake of justice, we are willing to take risks in creating housing for those most challenging to house, ” Blons said. We are proud to be part of meeting the immediate needs of people today and to be part of fighting for the investment in long term solutions to create housing equity. “