Supporting Our Neighbors: A Response to Encampments

The mission of St. Stephen’s Human Services is to end homelessness. We envision a community in which housing instability is rare, brief, and non-recurring, ending homelessness as we know it.

We move towards that goal with a continuum of services that works to meet those in need where they are at in their journey towards a housing solution that best fits their needs. These services have been developed and implemented with the understanding that serving our unhoused community is not as simple as finding a bed and putting someone in it, but in fact is a complex issue that requires multiple solutions. This approach is not new – it is nationally recognized best practice.

We understand that often our unsheltered population is experiencing ongoing trauma. We work to support those living unsheltered in a variety of ways. We work hard to reduce the risk for further trauma whenever possible. Residing outside might not be the ideal or safest option; however, it is a part of the continuum of where people choose to reside and has been throughout our long history of supporting the unhoused community. Congregate shelter, which is often at or near capacity, is simply not an appropriate solution for many people.

Unsheltered individuals are challenged by a number of issues: COVID-19 infection, HIV, Violence, Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Disorders. Due to these concerns, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended encampments not be cleared but rather be supported with services and basic infrastructure in order to provide the best outcome for camp residents

The CDC states: “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

The St. Stephen’s Human Services Street Outreach program will continue to support our unsheltered neighbors wherever they live. As an agency, and as members of our community, we oppose forced displacement and camp clearings. The constant and erratic displacement of those living in unsheltered group situations does nothing to further our collective goal of ending homelessness but instead attempts to make homelessness invisible. The violence and destruction of personal property associated with these clearings further traumatizes those we serve, reducing our ability to provide effective interventions. Rather than making people safer, most often the breakup of camps disperses and further isolates vulnerable individuals; therefore, increasing the risk to their well-being.

We as a community need to decide if our goal is to end homelessness or to make homelessness invisible. We must respect the self-determination of unhoused individuals and support solutions rooted in harm reduction. It will take all of us working together to form a planned, cohesive response that ends homelessness rather than simply moving it to other locations.

As the weather warms, more people will opt to stay outside and encampments will grow. Until viable, permanent solutions are in place, we all must work together to support our unhoused neighbors.

Take Action!

The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless leads policy change and advocacy efforts in the state. Connect with them to receive advocacy action alerts and raise your voice for our unhoused neighbors who cannot.

You can check out the details of the MCH 2021 legislative agenda HERE. The agenda seeks to improve and increase funding to emergency services such as shelters and increase funding for long-term supportive housing as well.

Check out the advocacy toolkit HERE and make a plan!

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