City committee acts on health, public safety issues

(l-r) Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, Minneapolis Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant

Car thefts up, youth confidence in 911 down in Mpls

Editor’s Note: This story was published prior to Gov. Walz’s announcement that he was ending the statewide mask mandate, following the CDC’s guidelines that fully vaccinated people can go maskless in most public spaces, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws and local business and workplaces.

On May 6 the Minneapolis Public Health & Safety Committee met to discuss three pressing discussion items and approved eight items for consent. Under consideration were measures to reduce car thefts, relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, ongoing testing and vaccination measures, and making Minneapolis a city friendly to children and youth.

Among the eight items for consent was the approval of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) plan modification as recommended by the NRP Policy Board. The proposed amendment calls for all neighborhood plan modifications over $200,000 to be reviewed and approved by the NRP Policy Board, allowing the department to change all documents to reflect this change.

It also solidifies adequate stakeholder support for neighborhood plans and NRP funds to be moved into any approved neighborhood strategy. Lastly, this amendment allows for administrative adjustments of no more than $10,000.

A grant application to the Minnesota Department of Commerce for Auto Theft Prevention was authorized for submittal in the amount of $1.3 million to prevent motor vehicle thefts. This grant serves as the fiscal agent to the Minnesota Auto Theft Prevention Board to reimburse Minnesota law enforcement agencies for vehicle theft programs. In 2020, the number of car thefts in Minneapolis increased 41% from the previous year.

Another consent item approved was submitting a $4 million, two-year grant applying to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for COVID-19 health literacy enhancement to racial and ethnic minority populations. This consent item went along with the first discussion item, a briefing on Governor Tim Walz’s timeline to end COVID-19 restrictions led by Gretchen Musicant, the commissioner of the Minneapolis Health Department (MHD).

As of Friday, May 7, outdoor venues have a total relaxation of restrictions, and restaurants and bars no longer have closing time restraints. Outdoor venues with 500 or more people in attendance will require masks. Starting Friday, May 28, capacity restrictions and six-feet social distancing in retail shops and restaurants will be lifted, but indoor mask requirements will stay in place. All capacity limitations, social distancing, and mask usage will end either July 1 or once the state has reached a 70% vaccination rate in those 16 years or older.

“We [MHD] have an ongoing policy committee that meets every two weeks. We’ll be discussing whether or not some of the constraints we have will continue related to mask-wearing in light of these changes, especially the ones July 1,” said Musicant.

At the meeting time, over 267,000 residents 16 years of age and older had received at least one dose of the vaccination. “Vaccine supply is now outpacing demand. We are changing our approach to working hard to reach those that are either vaccine-hesitant or who have experienced some barriers to vaccination,” explained Commissioner Musicant.

To overcome those barriers, all MHD-run clinics are accepting walk-ins for vaccinations. Weekly clinics will be held at the Davis Center and Park Avenue United Methodist Church. MHD is also offering vaccination clinics in MPS high schools to students 16 years and older.

Lastly, they will be partnering with community organizations across the city, including food shelves, low-income housing, places of worship, and community spaces. With vaccinations becoming a more popular topic, MHD is still working on outreach to promote continued testing throughout the community, with several testing sites available.

The state has received a $2 million grant to further fund vaccine implementation and COVID-19 response efforts. The National Association of County and City Health Officials provided a smaller grant of $24,987 to increase flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, especially in the Somali population.

Child Friendly City Initiative

The second discussion item was an update on UNICEF’s Child Friendly City Initiative (CFCI) led by Gretchen Musicant and Dr. Chuck Oberg. The CFCI is based upon the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to help local governments prioritize the needs of children and young people and elevate the voices of youth in local governance and decision-making.

There are currently five other cities that share this initiative, including Houston, TX, San Francisco, CA, Prince George Island, MD, Decatur, GA, and Johnson City, TN.

“We [Minneapolis] really want to be the best city for children and youth. We know that being the best city for children and youth will benefit everyone,” said Commissioner Musicant. Since signing on with UNICEF on February 14, 2020, the CFCI has made progress in forming local infrastructure through engagement, emergency preparedness and response, and child rights education.

During this discussion, the council members authorized the City of Minneapolis to become a community collaborator with the Growing up in the Twin Cities Project to identify disparities in health and well-being outcomes for young people across the city and to engage youth as local change agents. The council further approved a no-cost Memorandum of Understanding with the Growing Up in the Twin Cities project to share and assess data connected to youth groups.

This led to the last discussion item, an update by the Youth Coordinating Board regarding reimagining youth public safety. Two members of the Youth Congress, Elise Leggier and Maxine Almen, discussed primary research of a study among young people 14-19 on non-police responses to 911 calls.

The research concluded that youth feel less than moderately comfortable calling 911 as they feel afraid that BIPOC friends or others involved may be harmed; the only time they feel comfortable calling 911 is in dangerous situations. Additionally, the study found an overwhelming desire for police alternatives, primarily calling for the assistance of social workers, paramedics, or a crisis intervention team.

Those who felt most comfortable calling were Whites, Latinos, and people who identify as straight or heterosexual. The Youth Congress also noted that the population that does express comfort calling 911 does not represent the diverse community of youth in Minneapolis.

The Youth Coordinating Board hopes to send this research to the Office of Violence Prevention in hopes that the organization will be able to integrate it into their data from public engagement.

Khalifa Uchechi welcomes reader responses to