Third death linked to Minneapolis homeless camp, raising tensions over drug dealers

October 1, 2018

A mother of eight children who was living at a large homeless camp in south Minneapolis died of an apparent drug overdose early Sunday, marking the third death in less than a month linked to the rapidly growing homeless camp near the Little Earth housing project.

Pamela Rivera, 51, was found unconscious and alone in her tent early on Sunday, and a friend immediately began performing CPR, relatives said. Paramedics gave her 10 doses of Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of opioids, in her tent and in the ambulance on the way to Hennepin County Medical Center. She died there at 4:29 a.m. on Sunday, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiners office.

The cause of the death is still under investigation.

Despite an intensive outreach effort by American Indian and local health agencies, heroin and methamphetamine use remains common at the encampment and overdoses are an almost daily occurrence, residents and health workers say.

Natives Against Heroin, a street outreach group that has been patrolling the encampment, reacted swiftly and forcefully to the latest fatality. On Sunday morning, a dozen volunteers with the group marched through the encampment while pounding drums and shouting, Shut it down! They stopped outside three large tents that they said had been home to at least six people who were believed to be selling heroin at the camp.

Without warning, they ripped apart the tents, yelled Get the [expletive] out! and threw all the belongings in a giant pile at the center of the encampment. A small crowd gathered to watch and burn sage as sleeping bags, tarps, mattresses and camp chairs were hurled into the air, according to a video of the incident posted on Facebook.

The incident revealed the growing tensions and frustrations among many inhabitants, who say groups of drug dealers are infiltrating the site and preying on vulnerable people struggling with substance-use problems.

This is what happens when people die! yelled Greg Franson, one of the leaders of Natives Against Heroin, as he angrily tore at one of the tents. When people die, you gotta man up and take care of it.

James Cross, the founder of Natives Against Heroin, yelled, You kill our people! You gotta go ... Were not messing around.

A few hours later, friends and relatives of Rivera gathered for a sacred ritual at a relatives home in the Little Earth housing complex nearby. They built a spirit fire in Riveras honor using wood brought in carts from the homeless camp. As young women pounded ceremonial drums and chanted, four large eagles appeared in the sky above Little Earth and began circling the area in wide loops. Yolanda Rivera, 22, a daughter of Rivera, and others raised their hands toward the eagles as the drums pounded. A spirit fire is a traditional ritual in American Indian communities that is believed to help a persons spirit join their ancestors after death.

A funeral ceremony is planned for Rivera at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6th at the Pine Point School in Ponsford, Minn., on the White Earth Indian Reservation. Rivera is survived by five sons and three daughters, as well as seven grandchildren.

Chris Serres 612-673-4308 Twitter: @chrisserres

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