the tent community on Hiawatha

I drive along a road called Hiawatha many days a week, leaving Rob's neighborhood to go to the recording studio, to go to visit my mother, to go to a student's house for a lesson.

The great Native American Hiawatha, a hero to so many, must be watching what is happening along the roadside of this namesake highway.

Tents have sprung up between the exit ramp and the frontage road on a stretch of grass. At first it was maybe two or three tents and I wondered how long those people would get away with that before they were forced to leave by city authorities. To my surprise, within weeks the tents doubled, tripled. The rows of tents became two tents deep, tents on top of tents it seems. Someone erected a teepee.

My mind was being blown every time I drove that stretch of road, every thought going through my head, every imaginable sight passing before my eyes. Some things were obvious: people had drug problems there, people had no sanitation access and were defecating along the curbsides of the road, and there were children involved.

One evening last week, when the night's forecasted temperature was going to dip below freezing, I watched as my car idled at the stoplight on Hiawatha, a woman and two half grown children maybe eight or ten years of age, struggling to assemble a tent on the next grassy patch over the intersection which was becoming an extension of the overcrowded first community. 

The woman and the two little kids setting up their tent in the chill night air as the sun was going down, with an entire mass of troubled humanity only steps away, were the mother and two kids safer with them or without them? I could never guess.

But into my silent observations, came the voices of Minneapolis to add some clarity. I heard someone on public radio talking about "Tent City", something unprecedented in Minneapolis' history, and realized that the phenomenon I have been witnessing now has a name. The speaker said that the city has now contributed portable toilets and pledges to maintain them as part of a humanitarian crisis effort. The city has also installed some massive portable lights on poles running on a generator. I've seen these additions driving by and I wondered where they came from.

I don't know who the speaker was on the radio, but this person was bringing up all the things I was wondering about. The population of the tent dwellers is over half Native American, and their situations had become more dire due to many new National issues including the epidemic abuse of opioid drugs and the decreasing funding of many kinds for people in poverty. There are children of all ages living there and those of school age have no way to attend school.

How strange and sad but maybe a beautiful sign of hope that these Native people are setting up a village along their hero Hiawatha's original trail.

I read an article in my beloved New York Times this past Sunday about how a similar community is struggling in misery in Philadelphia.

One tent dweller was quoted in Philly as saying, "People think we're having fun down here. Are you crazy? We're living under a bridge."

So this is all strange and hard to process. Hard to know how to think about it.

Yesterday a guy I really like, a touring musician like myself, here in Minneapolis, he was making announcements on Facebook saying he wants to take a group of musicians down to "Tent City" and just be there, just somehow show support or something. 

He said "bring guitars" and that's something I know how to do.

We're going today at 4pm.

Lest anyone reading this decide to label me as foolishly optimistic or idealistic or romantic, let me add this bit of personal history.

My big brother, my only sibling, Bradley John Dundon, has been a wandering homeless person for more than ten years now as far as I know.

He graduated from Carleton College. He had a psychotic break sometime after college. After a while he was having to take a lot of prescribed drugs to stay lucid but the drugs made him almost incapacitated. He told me that he was going to leave the home for the mentally ill and that he didn't want me to try to find him.

Once he was sighted on a corner in Denver, begging.

He was sighted by the police and then our own mother went there to try to save him.

When she approached him, he recognized her, he dropped his things, and ran.

I can't do anything for my brother, but these people are my brother to me.

This is why I like to play the street shows in Minneapolis. I get to be with the street people and hear them talk and try to understand them. 

Today I am going to try to understand some more.

I have read now that bringing food and clothing and blankets is good and bad.

It's the same as the thoughts about whether or not to give money to the people on the street corners.

I won't be giving food or money today.

I will just be there.

Maybe foolish, maybe unwelcome, maybe a selfish desire to intercede and cure my conscience to feel good about myself.

My brother once said to me, "You aren't going to be able to put your mentally ill brother into an institution so you can feel good about yourself and get on with your nifty little life. I'm not going to let you do that to me."

No answers here. Just telling my stories.

4pm today at Tent City along Hiawatha if you want to join us. Let's call it a humanity rally.


Courtney October 18, 2018 @04:50 pm
I drove around it in every direction but couldn’t figure out a way in by car. I am going to visit tomorrow by bicycle.
  • Leave a comment: