Faced with the challenge of providing housing and services to the residents of south Minneapolis' large Camp Nenookaasi homeless encampment, the city of Minneapolis tried a new strategy: bypassing its traditional partnership with Hennepin County and instead awarding a nearly $1 million contract to a relatively unknown, for-profit group called Helix Health and Housing Services.
There was no competitive bidding process for the contract. Rather, the city based its decision on its experience working with Helix co-owners Adam Fairbanks, a consultant for Red Lake Nation, and Carrie Johnson, the former service area director of housing at Avivo, during its response to another major encampment: the Wall of Forgotten Natives, which popped up along Hwy. 55 in 2018.
At Nenookaasi, as was the case with the earlier encampment, many residents are Native Americans with tribal affiliations, struggling with a complex combination of addiction and trauma. These barriers have made it difficult for them to use sober emergency shelters and complicate the work of the usual nonprofit outreach agencies trying to match them with services and suitable housing in the private rental market.