Leech Lake’s progressive housing move

By Matt Peckham, Opinions Editor

Jim and Gail Hinkemeyer are not homeless. In fact, Minnesota Public Radio states that they rent an apartment in Belize and had, up until now, leased a lakefront property from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. An MPR piece reports the Tribal Association’s decision to house 80 homeless families by choosing not to renew Leech Lake leases will cost the tribe $500,000 annually or half of its Lake Natural Resources’ budget each year. However, the article was originally titled for and still sympathizes with the non-native, multi-homed leasers.

If this failure to acknowledge the tribe’s bold humanitarian effort is not Euro-Centric, it at least embraces governmental complacency toward Minnesota’s homeless population. The state and the metro area burn their money on projects benefitting the rich. According to the “Star Tribune,” the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium will eventually suck in $616 million in state funds and $631 million from Minneapolis including interest. These funds are hefty, especially considering that the City of Minneapolis reports only $14.5 million, just short of 1%, of its $1.5 billion 2017 budget is being allocated to affordable housing. The governmental norm is appropriating scraps to families looking to escape the elements and diverting huge sums to house the Vikings rather than the homeless. So it is shocking to see the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Association put people over profit, an act we would expect from our government.

Minnesota has many people who would benefit from a priority switch. A 2015 Wilder Research study found homeless populations of 3,665 in Hennepin County, 1,787 in Ramsey County and 9,312 (15,000 on a given day) in Minnesota. The study adds that 41% of Minnesota’s homeless population is on subsidized housing waiting lists, and another 14% would be if the lists were not closed. The current monetary allocation is failing thousands of Minnesotans. The state and its media should look to Leech Lake and feel inadequate.

The metro’s new leaders supposedly agree and must be held to that standard.

The newly-elected Jacob Frey promises to end Minneapolis’ chronic homelessness within five years. Melvin Carter, St. Paul’s mayoral elect, included funding affordable housing for seniors and families in his platform. Constituents are responsible for holding these new leaders accountable if their budget proposals do not reflect their stump speeches. Minnesota will elect a new governor in 2018 who will hopefully prioritize the state’s homeless population. Thousands will sleep easier than they currently do if these new leaders’ housing initiatives even slightly resemble the work of the Leech Lake Tribal Association.

This article first appeared in the Friday, November 17, 2017, Edition of The Echo.