G.A. Minutes 9-28-13

G.A. Minutes 9-28-13
It has been raining off and on all day. The sky cleared about an hour before our meeting but the air is chilly and damp. We’ll need to get the fire going right away.

Our friends from the Native Alliance and from Socialist Action are already at the Memorial when we arrive. The Native Alliance is a recently formed group made up of Native people who are former employees of the Gimaajii Center. They decided to band together to provide much needed help to our city’s Native American Community.

The Gimaajii Center is the official city NGO that is supposed to provide housing and social services to these folks. They have all the funding and housing structures but are doing a very poor job of providing services actually needed in the community. Native Alliance has no funding, not even an office; yet they are the people who will accompany those in need when they have to go to court, Dr.’s appointments, meetings with government officials and anything else where a gap between Native culture and dominant culture exists. An N.A. person states, “We really want to be able to help everyone but for now we can only provide services to Native people.

Tonight they have brought individual packages of already cooked brown rice and vegetables. Of course, this food is given to everyone regardless of nationality. Ideally these food packages should be taken home and heated but hungry street folks are wolfing it down cold, using their hands for utensils.

We’ve been able to purchase a new load of firewood so can start up a big warm fire. A few friends from our local Socialist Action group are joining us tonight. They say they are impressed by the setup we have. We tell them we have been doing this for at least a year at the CJM Memorial so have found what works and what doesn’t.

They are curious as to what is going on with the Citizens Review Board. We explain we recently attended their meeting and were introduced to a police lieutenant who works at the Public Safety Department.

We are scheduled to meet with him in about three weeks and to present our official complaint at that time. He then reviews our evidence and presents what he thinks will be a good solution to the problem. If we are not satisfied with his solution we take the matter back to the CRB.

Apparently, this will be the procedure for all complaints submitted to the board. We add that we were dismayed to find 3 people from the DPD present at the CRB meeting. It appeared these people are in attendance at every meeting. We think the CRB was formed in order to defend citizens from abuse by the police so we wonder why so many of the DPD are allowed to attend the meetings. However, we plan to carry on with our complaint.

This discussion reminds an Occupier that they need to get a good picture of the fire and the fire container. It will be a good idea to have a picture of what the fire setup actually looks like and include it in the complaint package. Another Occupier takes out his cellphone and takes many pictures.

Many street folks have come to sit and get warm by the fire. Among them is our former camper who had been living in another town. She is upset about being kicked out of the Holiday Center earlier in the day. She is an older grey haired woman with a pleasing and peaceful demeanor. She says, “There are some tables and chairs off to the side in the open area where I have been going to sit and read the newspaper every day for the last few weeks. Today a security guard came and kicked me out, saying I can’t sit there anymore. I went across the street and asked a police officer if that was legal. He said it was because the foyer area was privately owned. I don’t get it. Nobody ever sits at those tables and I’m always very quiet and never bother anybody”.

We tell her we think the situation really sucks but the development company for the Holiday Center bought the right of way back from the City a few years ago and now will not allow anyone to “loiter” there. This includes people waiting for a bus during bad weather. We inform her that a very well-known homeless advocate was recently also kicked out.

She laughs and says, “Well now, that makes a difference. I feel much better as I now consider it an honor to have been kicked out!”

Another person of the street who we know well is sitting with us. She tells us she attended a meeting at CHUM earlier and that the subject of the meeting was the destruction of the Graffiti Graveyard homeless camp. An Occupier becomes very upset by this news.

She says, “What the hell is wrong with these people? The cops spent all summer destroying all the little homeless camps around town, telling the campers to go live in Graffiti Graveyard and now they’re trying to destroy that camp too? They know everyone is not able to stay at CHUM. Where do they expect homeless people to go? They’re certainly not willing to give them homes!”

Another Occupier says, “Don’t worry; they’ve been talking about razing the Graveyard for years. It’s probably just an empty threat”.

A homeless Native woman who is a regular and usually very boisterous fixture on the street silently circles our group; giving us her Native blessing.

A recently homeless man, friend of our former camper, expresses his frustration with being homeless. “Just bare survival takes up your whole life”, he says.

Our former camper tells him, “If you’re going to be homeless for the winter I know from experience that Crookston and Grand Forks have very good homeless shelters. I lived in the shelter in Grand Forks for 3 years and was treated very well. If you hitch hike down there you will be safe and warm”.

He says, “But I like Duluth. I was born and raised here. If you’re not homeless it’s a really nice place”.

An Occupier whispers to the camper, “I think he’s just trying to convince you that you should take him home with you”. The camper whispers back, “That is definitely NOT going to happen”.

We have realized for some time that we are getting very close to our imaginary curfew but the fire has been very alluring. We have lots of wood but have burned up the last of our sage bundles. The Memorial is not a city park so we don’t actually have to leave by 10pm but it’s a good cutoff point for us to make sure we get home at an hour that will allow us to get things done the next day. It allows the police to think they have us under control while it allows us to sort of keep them under control. They have passed by a few times during the evening but didn’t appear to be paying us much attention. We wonder how things will change now that we have filed an official complaint. That remains to be seen. We’ll be back next Tuesday.

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