Update: One day after the publishing of this story, the city of Minneapolis evicted two other unhoused encampments. Activists estimate the total number of people forcibly removed from encampments at 210 in the past six days, notably higher than the average 70 open shelter beds countywide per night.
Officials claim safe shelter spaces available
A tent encampment of about 60 people at East 28th Street and Bloomington Avenue was the latest to be evicted in a series of forced relocations of unhoused populations conducted by the City of Minneapolis this summer.
A large force of Minneapolis Public Works employees with dozens of Minneapolis police and SWAT officers and at least 50 vehicles sectioned off several blocks in each direction of the camp in the early morning of Sept. 30 and ordered residents to leave.
In an interview prior to the eviction of the camp, one of the camp’s residents, Anthony (who declined to give a last name), said an eviction of the camp would be splitting up a community. Anthony moved into the camp after moving back to Minneapolis, his hometown, from rehabilitation in Rochester.
He found the camp through another resident he used to work with and said everyone in the camp is tight knit. “It’s tough being homeless.Then you find a place that’s like home and you get kicked out,” Anthony said.
Jack Nobles, who is a founder of the Sanctuary Supply Depot, and Christin Crabtree, a neighbor, witnessed the eviction. Both stated that residents were not given time to gather their possessions.
“Usually at these encampment evictions it looks like refugees,” Nobles said. “You see these people moving with all their possessions on their back and leaving. This time there was no possessions. There was just their back.”
Nobles says he consoled one evicted woman who was not allowed to go back into the camp to retrieve the graduation cap her son had given her after he was the first in their family to graduate from high school. Everything left in the encampment was loaded into a payloader.
When asked about the process to retrieve items, Minneapolis Media Relations Coordinator Casper Hill said in an email to the MSR: “Everyone who had been living at Friday’s closed encampment could take their belongings with them [and] store their items free of charge. When items are left and encampment closes, it’s the responsibility of the property owner to remove those items.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) currently has an open lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis, Park Board, and Hennepin County for the seizing of unhoused citizens’ property in previous evictions.
A press release on Twitter by local resident Reed Eliot stated, “on behalf of anonymous comrades and residents of the encampments” there has been “a total absence of city outreach and services at the site of sweeps this year.” Nobles and Crabtree both said there were no health or human service workers at Friday’s eviction. Nobles said he only saw City outreach once at the 28th and Bloomington encampment.
“There were absolutely not any workers the day of the clearing in terms of health and human services type folks,” Crabtree said. “None.” Minneapolis officials had not replied by press time to questions about what level of City outreach had been provided to the encampment.
Eviction defenders say many residents do not even think of the shelters as options, as they consider them less safe than encampments or have concerns about being unable to stay with their families. David Hewitt, director of Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness, acknowledges that people have previously had bad experiences in shelters, but he believes major improvements have been made in recent years.
Hewitt cited the Salvation Army Harbor Light Shelter as an example. He said at one point it housed about four times as many people as it does today with a fraction of the staffing, and noted past conditions could have caused poor experiences for people in shelters.
“I would recognize and acknowledge that those experiences [that cause people to stay away from shelters] are very real and also that betterments have been made and continue to be made to transform the shelter system to better serve people.”
Hewitt said his office focuses on individual case management, and that they have managed to permanently house more than 1,000 people the office classified as “chronically homeless.” People housed by the Office to End Homelessness average 43 months living unhoused prior to getting assistance.
Hewitt reported an average of 70 open beds at Hennepin County shelters per night county-wide earlier in the summer, but Nobles said the unhoused people he works with have had trouble finding available beds.
Nobles said there were only 12 beds available (two for men and 10 for women) on Friday when they called the Minneapolis Shelter Connect, but the encampment’s population was estimated at 59 during a census taken by Sanctuary Supply Depot earlier in September.
Hewitt said people who could not be accommodated because the shelters are full can call back in the evening when more beds open up due to no-shows.
In a previous interview, Hewitt noted that Hennepin County has a “shelter all” law that requires the County to expand family shelter capacity to meet the needs of all unhoused families with children. This is achieved by routing families to overflow sites that partner with the County and can accommodate families.
Allen, a resident of the 28th and Bloomington encampment (who declined to give a last name), had been at the camp since the encampment started. Allen liked the encampment for its sense of community and its relative security compared to sleeping at bus stops or other public spaces.
“I’ll go right down the Greenway and do the same thing right there,” Allen said when asked about his plans after eviction.
Cole Miska is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.