Camp Mniluzahan and Creek Patrol working to protect unsheltered individuals
RAPID CITY, S.D. — With the temperatures in dangerous territory and as temperatures continue to drop, volunteers from Camp Mniluzahan are out in force, seeking out the most vulnerable members of the community.
The city has stretched resources to provide for an ever increasing homeless population, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the issue. To help provide shelter and protection, Camp Mniluzahan and the Creek Patrol have remained an active part of the community. It comes in the forms of protection from violence, warmth in the winter, and food for the hungry.
“Three or four times now, we’ve had vehicles attempt to run over our un-sheltered relatives down here near the creek,” said Creek Patrol volunteer Joey. “Just like a hundred yards away, we had someone run through a camp in the summer twice in their truck.”
The camp is a popular recovery site for those living their private lives in a public space, yet many homeless individuals can still be seen spending their days in town. Others have jobs, but have struggled financially during the pandemic, and just need a helping hand.
“A lot of people that we work with utilize services here in Rapid, either the Hope Center or places like that to receive their mail and things like that,” said volunteer Mary Haan.
She says living at camp does not satisfy address requirements for the homeless, and the camp provides transportation to and from jobs, various shelters, and important appointments.
Volunteers drive and walk around town in search of individuals in need, and organize pick-ups and shelter stays, but make a point of learning and listening to the stories of those they are helping, in order to provide the best resources.
Director or racial equity for NDN Collective, Sunny Red Bear says she feels a listening ear makes the camp inclusive. Rather creating spaces and deciding what those in need should have, Red Bear says those in need are given a voice.
Volunteers talk to residents about their goals and hopes for themselves, the city, and local community. Despite a shaky start, organizers of the camp have been working with local law enforcement to keep unhoused individuals safe.
“I’m personally very pleased with the working relationship with the camp right now,” said Willie Whelchel, Chief Deputy of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. “And, I do believe this will continue through this winter, and beyond I believe. I’m excited that we’re meeting and talking about this, and I think a lot of good things are going to come from this.”
“There’s a lot to heal from, there’s a lot of acknowledgments that need to be made, but also, like a lot of education,” said Red Bear. “We have a long ways to go in Rapid City, as far as everything being racially equitable for all. So, I think that this is a start.”
Both local law enforcement and the camp ask that individuals reach out if they find anyone in need of shelter or support. Head to Camp Mniluzahan’s website or Facebook for donations and volunteer opportunities, or call 307-363-2018 to alert the patrol to areas with homeless individuals.