In August, this newspaper ran an article about yet another clearing of tents along Hwy. 55 in Minneapolis ("Highway 55 encampment regroups; 'We've gone around in a circle,'" Aug. 22). The story concluded with an anecdote from a woman who said she had been homeless for five years because she "doesn't know how to find subsidized housing" and has an "unreliable phone." The article also mentioned that during that half decade, her husband overdosed and died.
Let's not beat around the bush, pretending to not understand what is going on here, killing these people.
The chronically homeless are dying on our streets, in our parks, on our trains. A large and highly visible subset is addicted to cheap, plentiful, lethal drugs. It was recently reported that fentanyl kills someone every day in Hennepin County. Many others among the chronically homeless are mentally ill and unable to care for themselves.
They are dying in plain sight because we refuse to acknowledge what ails them, and instead we are largely trying to "post" our way out of it. In response to a crisis killing over 100,000 Americans every year, the online activists who set the terms of our policymaking conversation have stepped up, netting tens of likes for their tweets "dunking" on the mayor.
It's rarely directly stated that, offline, in the real world, every single person in Minneapolis knows where to get fentanyl and other hard drugs — the encampments. The general public did not know how and where to buy heroin in Minneapolis 10 years ago. This is a recent development.
Addicts arrested for petty and sometimes for violent crimes are ordered to drug rehabilitation in lieu of prison, then literally walk out of facilities to Lake and Hiawatha where, for $5, you can buy a baggie of fentanyl under the train station in broad daylight a block from a burnt out police station.
This is pretty clearly contributing to the problem.
We could treat this crisis with the maturity it requires. We could refuse to allow the blatant selling and using of hard drugs in public. We could refuse to allow public services like parks and transit to be destroyed, and then pretend like none of it is happening.
It is clear that a significant portion of the chronically homeless need to be institutionalized, either for drug treatment, mental health therapy or both.
Do you live or work or spend time in Minneapolis? Have you not seen them, covered in feces, screaming at themselves? Lying facedown on bus shelter floors with their pants around their ankles? Wandering into traffic on Franklin Avenue? Fighting with ghosts and with each other?
Put the phone down and look at them. They are human beings, not characters in a political mobile game.
They will not be helped by another five years of articles quoting nonprofit executives vaguely alluding to "connecting" them to "services." The Humphrey School is not going to create a pamphlet that ends this. The proud Facebook photos of upper-middle class suburbanites dropping off supplies in an unfamiliar neighborhood are charming but aren't doing the trick.
This is not working; they are dying.
The dealers — who do not appear to be hard to find — need to be prosecuted and locked up for the pain, suffering and death they've caused. Their victims need to be humanely taken off the streets and cared for until they're able to function independently. People with mental health problems that leave them unable or unwilling to manage their own affairs without harm to themselves or others need to be civilly committed. The Legislature recently spent a $17.5 billion dollar state budget surplus, while the old state hospital in Fergus Falls sits there, mothballed.
Out west, places like California and Seattle have a more advanced version of the same problem. They recently brought court challenges to ill-conceived prohibitions on public camping, and have begun reforming civil commitment laws to make it easier to get people the help they need. We do not need to wait for Minneapolis' Phillips neighborhood to turn into something like San Francisco's Tenderloin before we act.
We need to let our leaders know that we'll have their backs when they make hard decisions. Forget activists and their tweets — we must help the people who are suffering, in real life.
Nick Magrino lives in Minneapolis.