Encampment evictions to continue in winter

Homeless tents outside of city hall
Photo by Cole Miska

Mpls votes down proposal to suspend them

On Thursday, Oct. 20, the Minneapolis City Council voted 9-4 against a proposal to suspend further evictions of unhoused encampments within the city, with some council members saying the issue was outside the scope of the council’s control. 

The council passed two measures that require the City to report on the past five years of health and safety inspections and the total cost of encampment enclosures in the past five years. 

The latest action from the city council follows the eviction of four unhoused encampments in Minneapolis, which prompted protesters to set up tent encampments on the steps of city hall on Sunday, Oct. 9. 

Andy (who declined to give a last name but works with Sanctuary Supply Depot) organized the encampment as a message to the City and Mayor Frey: “Stop the sweeps. We’re not trash, you can’t sweep us away.”

After a night of having Sanctuary Supply Depot crew trailed by Minneapolis police, who Andy alleges immediately seized tents handed out by the supply team, Andy called up other organizations to gather as many unhoused people as possible at city hall. 

Five tents were set up the first night, growing to seven tents by the next day. 

Volunteers were cooking meals for the unhoused folks living outside city hall on the afternoon of Oct. 10, calling out to light rail passengers to join them in solidarity. One resident, Melanie Groves, said the group planned to continue staying overnight until they were forcibly removed. 

The encampment moved across the street to the plaza of the Hennepin County Government Center on Oct. 11 and was abandoned on Oct. 14 after Metro Transit police officers put pressure on the residents of the encampment to leave.

“I have nowhere to be,” Groves said. “I can’t set [my tent] up legally anywhere. So, what am I supposed to do?”

Groves has been unhoused for a little over a year and has spent almost as long on the list to be placed in affordable housing. Groves was unable to pay rent when her partner unexpectedly ended up in a nursing home.

Andy, who is currently unhoused but temporarily living with a friend, says homelessness can happen to anyone, noting a 2017 study saying most Americans could not handle a $500 emergency.

“Where are we supposed to go if we are not allowed to be anywhere?” Andy said. “We’re not allowed to have an encampment where we try to self-contain and run ourselves. We’re not allowed to [camp] by ourselves. We don’t evaporate into thin air just because you take all of our stuff and burn things and chase us around and arrest us.”

The shelter system run by Hennepin County is a free resource often utilized by people experiencing homelessness, but it does not always have the capacity to provide a bed to everyone seeking shelter on a given night. 

Activists estimate that over 200 people have been evicted from encampments so far in October, and the county has estimated an average of 70 daily open beds at shelters in the summer. Andy described the system as “underfunded and inadequate.”

Groves previously tried the shelter system in September but has been living at encampments after a shelter in downtown Minneapolis had her and her partner Mike sleep on a gym mat on the floor of a church. Groves also says the shelter had no COVID protection in place. 

Groves has also been dissatisfied with City outreach to encampments, saying outreach workers arrived only about once a month to the camps she has lived in. Groves was unhappy about City oversight of unhoused encampments allegedly being moved by Mayor Frey from under the umbrella of health and human services to regulatory services. The office of Mayor Frey had not responded to a request for comment.

Andy’s primary concern in the coming months is the cooling temperatures, saying that requests to Sanctuary Supply Depot change in the final months of the year are almost exclusively requests for propane to burn to keep warm.

“Winter is coming for these people, and winter kills people,” Andy said.

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