I recently attended the Black Hills Press Forum at Rushmore Holiday Inn where Mayor Allender was the guest speaker.
I have had my differences with Allender in the past but for the most I have to respect him for the job he has done as mayor for the past eight years, specifically when Covid-19 hit South Dakota and the Black Hills. His stance to shutter many businesses to keep his constituents safe was a brave move considering Governor Kristi Noem did the exact opposite.
Then there was the issue of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School lands that sit smack dab in the middle of the West side of the township. Allender was faced with Public Law 543 which was a May 1948 Act of Congress that stipulated that the Rapid City Indian School Farm land could be used for municipal or public purposes and for the rehabilitation of “Needy Indians.” The Act included a “reversion clause” that stated if the land ceased to be used for the purpose for which it was intended it was to revert back to the Department of Interior.
Three parcels of land which included a behavioral health hospital, a senior activity center and an assisted living complex were found to be in discrepancy which brought Allender to the negotiation table. To his credit he tried to negotiate in good faith but was met with opposition from his council who tried a maneuver that would have negated any progress Natives had made with the City.
But the one subject I have to take offense with is his stance on homeless people in the city. He made the comment that people are homeless because they “choose to be homeless.” I totally disagree. I have many family members who are homeless and yes while their addictions may have caused them to be in the situation, they did not choose to have addictions.
Research has shown adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are an important factor that leads to drug addiction. Show me an Indian who has not suffered from an adverse childhood experience and I will show you an exception. One must also take into consideration the effects of historical trauma and the aftermath of genocidal policies that many of us still suffer from.
In a book called “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: A close Encounter with Addiction” author Gabor Maté makes a direct correlation between addiction and childhood loss and trauma. He states that studies reveal that” the brain itself is shaped by early experience: the addicted adult brain is, in part, a product of early trauma.”
The point I am trying to make is that in order to get to the root cause of homelessness we must face the issues of addictions. And while I disagree with Allender that many homeless chose that lifestyle, I again have to give him credit that at the end of his presentation at the Black Hills Press Forum gathering he did say that in order to make progress, the city must deal with addiction and pour more money into treatment facilities and childcare facilities.
However another point I was at odds with is his opinion that if we help homeless people more homeless people are going to show up in the city for the services we are providing. He said if we help them next year 200 more are going to show up and the next 200 more.
I so wanted to ask him where he thinks these people are coming from? I believe there is a direct correlation between to the increase in the number of homeless people and the felony ingestion law. A recent statistic showed that 52 percent of people in jail on the felony ingestion law are Native American. When you felonize a person, you cut off his or her ability to get housing, you cut off their ability to get a job, you cut off their ability to educate themselves because they are cut off from obtaining a Pell Grant, you cut off their ability to get a driver’s license because they most likely owe child support.
Talk about traumatizing someone. I’d self-sooth with drugs and alcohol too. And the last factor but definitely not the least is the question, how is one to survive without an income, without a home and without outside help? Well, guess what? They have to survive somehow and most likely many are going to resort to criminal activity to survive.
But what gets to me the most is when people say we should just go back to the rez. Well first of all, this is our homeland. We are living on disputed 1868 Treaty Territory and we have the right to be here in spite of what city officials may believe. Don’t get me started on that issue.
Che Hecetu Ksto!
EXCELLENT ARTICLE. I agree whole-heartedly.
Sometimes people “choose” homelessness when their only choices are the inadequate shelters offered to homeless people and the streets. If we as a collective offered them the third option of adequate shelter space along with appropriate comprehensive health care (including informed mental health care and addiction treatment), compassionate case management, and other supports, no one would choose the streets or homeless encampments. Investing in people pays good dividends. This could prevent crimes and other expensive social ills. It’s not only compassionate but cost effective. It’s also consistent with the teachings of that carpenter from Nazareth whom many people claim to be their Lord and Savior. Jus’ sayin’ ….