‘Eviction defenders’ rally to save homeless encampment

Photo by Cole Miska Residents and eviction defenders move possessions onto the greenway

On the morning of June 1, 2022, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Minnesota State Patrol attempted the eviction of an unhoused encampment situated on a small patch of land south on 28th Street, touching the fence line of Interstate 35W in Minneapolis.

A group of community members who declined to give their names but describe themselves as “eviction defenders” said that this is just the latest in a long line of encampment evictions.

“We’re out here to meet the residents’ needs,” said one of the group members. “We’re just trying to help out the residents in whatever way they need us to. It sounds like residents need more help moving more than anything today.”

The eviction defender said the group living at the 35W encampment had been evicted three times in the last few months and called it “disheartening” to see people they have helped move so many times to continue to be displaced.

Residents of camps who are evicted sometimes go on to start other camps or join established ones. Local or state authorities sometimes evict camps right as they are established to stop them from growing.

Photo by Cole Miska MnDOT and state patrol

“It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole with peoples’ lives,” one eviction defender said.

One resident of the camp, Menace, who declined to give a last name, has lived in multiple encampments and been through several evictions. “Sometimes they don’t even tell us when and they just come and basically steal our sh**,” Menace said. “We gotta move on and start from zero again.”

Eviction defenders said that many people choose to stay in camps over shelters. They noted shelters sometimes lack available beds and alleged that some shelters are unsafe to the point that people have trauma from them, which causes them to actively avoid all shelters.

“They actually will choose the option to sleep outside during the winter,” one eviction defender said. “When that’s the case, you know there’s a problem.”

Another eviction defender called the City and State’s approaches to homelessness “hostile” and that there were not enough services available. “Instead [of services], what we get is cops, bulldozers, and displacement,” they said.

Eviction defenders say the city of Minneapolis and MnDOT used to give exact dates for when sweeps would occur at the camps but have since started giving vague time windows. The group of eviction defenders at the 35W encampment say the change was due to people showing up to try to stop the sweeps.

MnDOT and state patrol arrived at the 35W camp at 9 am. State patrol announced residents needed to begin moving belongings immediately, saying they had seven days of notice to vacate the private lot, which belonged to MnDOT, and that residents “should have already been gone.”

Eviction defenders contested, alleging that not all residents had gotten the notice.

“I’m not going to start arresting people in five minutes or anything,” the first state patrol officer on the scene said. “But [residents] need to be actively moving.”

MnDOT workers cut through the chain-link fence between the camp and the interstate but did not move tents. Eviction defenders verbally sparred with state patrol and MnDOT workers throughout the cutting of the fence.

After the fence was mostly removed, a group of unidentified workers arrived and tried to begin removing tents but were confronted by eviction defenders and quickly abandoned the attempt.

The unidentified workers declined to comment on what organization they worked for or who had hired them for the sweep. Eviction defenders speculated that the group may have been from the Agape Movement—an organization sometimes hired by the city of Minneapolis—due to an Agape symbol being visible on one worker’s shirt.

But a representative from Agape explained to the MSR that Agape was not involved with the sweep. One of their members, however, Alfonzo Williams, who owns the private company Big Top Contracting, LLC, was hired out for the sweep. Big Top Contracting members were the unidentified workers.

The state patrol, MnDOT, and the Big Top Contracting employees left the scene by 10:30 am, with the encampment still standing.

Photo by Cole Miska MnDOT cutting the fence

“MnDOT and state patrol are now leaving,” the Twin Cities Encampment Responders Twitter account tweeted. “Eviction defense works.”

Some residents gathered their belongings and permanently departed the camp during the sweep, but others are planning to remain at the encampment. One resident, Luis Ayala, said he will only stay at the camp if the other remaining residents do as well.

Ayala called the community that has developed at the camp a “family,” saying keeping that community together is the most important thing for his happiness. “We have meals together; we kind of party when someone has a birthday. We stay together on Christmas, all those special occasions. We stay together in the most healthy way that we could.”

Ayala says he feels some people view him and other houseless people as “dangerous,” noting that people have crossed the street when they see him walking on the same sidewalk. He said there are some fights and drug use in camps but noted that both of these things happen in houses as well and that everyone in the camp is a regular human being.

“It’s nothing different—we are living in tents. The rest of the people live in a house. That’s all,” Ayala added.

There has been no word if or when state patrol or MnDOT will return to the encampment.

MnDOT workers on the scene said they were not authorized to speak to the media. A media representative for MnDOT was called but did not arrive at the camp. MnDOT‘s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.