Activists, homeless people respond
The displacement of unhoused people continued into the new year as MnDOT announced they will clear out a homeless encampment near downtown Minneapolis after a man was shot and killed there on Jan. 12.
This follows the eviction of one of Minneapolis’s oldest unhoused encampments, known as The Quarry, by the City on Dec. 30, 2022. The Quarry was one of more than a half-dozen encampments that were swept by the City in 2022.
“We will continue to urge the City to stop criminalizing the survival strategies of unsheltered homeless people, and we are strategizing ways to take legal action on their behalf to end the cruelty and violence of encampment evictions,” said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality.
In response to the evictions throughout 2022, a group of activists hosted a “People’s Council” in South Minneapolis on Dec. 18. Aaron Johnson, one of the organizers, said the meeting arose out of a frustration that came from feeling like the city council was not hearing the requests of activists.
The meeting happened less than 24 hours before a different encampment sweep occurred in Minneapolis under the Interstate 35W bridge at 31st Street. “I thought to myself, we really need to have our own format where we can speak about these issues, because there are people dying and [the city council] is not even listening,” Johnson said.
“If they’re gonna pass resolutions that affect us, we’re gonna come together in a democratic process and we’re gonna come up with demands and expectations and hold our leaders accountable to those expectations as the people.”
Johnson called the meeting, which was the first assembly of the People’s Council, a “trial run.” The meeting was several hours long, with several local unhoused people sharing their stories. Activists discussed strategies on how to best serve the local unhoused population, both through direct action and at a legislative level.
Simeon Aitken, one of the organizers, said the main goal of the event was to elevate the voice of unhoused people who may otherwise go unheard and to push for a moratorium on all evictions of encampments over the winter.
“[Our goals are] to strengthen the people’s resistance against the unjust and inhumane treatment that the City of Minneapolis and police forces continue to carry out against poor, marginalized and unhoused people, specifically the violent and destructive raids frequently on unhoused people living together also known as sweeps or encampment evictions,” Aitken said.
Aitken spoke on the importance of the moratorium as something that could save lives. “To put it bluntly, [the moratorium] will reduce the number of people who will die this winter,” Aitken said. “Because people are going to die this winter because of living in the streets. And evictions accelerate that. They make it impossible for people to stay put. They make it impossible for people to stay in touch with their case workers.”
One unhoused couple, who did not give their names, said they appreciated the encampment at The Quarry, as it provided them with extra security.
“What the camp means to me—I’m not alone there,” the man said. “Have you ever been out there by yourself, alone—really, really alone—not with your significant other or whoever? That’s the scariest sh** in the world. I don’t care how big you are, if you have a gun, it’s not cool.”
The woman in the couple agreed: “I was all by myself, and it’s nice to have a place to go where people are around me. If someone’s planning to do something to harm you, there’s people at the camp who are gonna do something,” the woman said.
The couple said that they have had to move at least three times this year, and have lost most of their possessions, including at least one tent, each time they relocate. The man said he is unable to work because his identification and social security card were taken by the City in a sweep.
“Everything I get ends up gone for some reason,” the man said. “I don’t really keep nice things. It’s kind of hard to.”
The man also spoke on his difficulty doing a job search due to the stressful conditions of encampment life. “Have you ever woken up in the morning, you haven’t showered in a month, you smell like campfire, you have no propane in [the heater], and they say, ‘Get a job?’”
The couple noted they do not want to go to a shelter because they want to avoid being split up. While Hennepin County does offer shelter services to childless couples, only a select few shelters are able to serve couples and have a limited capacity.
Another unhoused resident, who also declined to give a name, said she tried to get a dumpster to her encampment, but garbage companies refused to drop one as the encampment did not have an official address, and that the City would not help.
“Everyone loves to say we’re just filthy, living in garbage,” the encampment resident said. “We don’t want it there either, I promise you.”
The Dec. 18 event also served as a supply drive. Residents said their number-one need going into winter is propane to heat their tents.
“If all we get out of this is a good amount of propane for us and make sure everyone has a heater, cool,” the man from the unhoused couple said. “You don’t got to feed us, no clothes, nothing. We just want to be warm.”
Organizers decided to begin hosting the meeting on a monthly basis. One organizer, Christin Crabtree, said she was very happy with the event, estimating around 50 people attended.
“That felt really good to me that we were able to make room and make space that was safe for people who are maybe typically not safe when there’s police and stuff around,” Crabtree said. “So that felt really good and that we were able to do it in a way where we really centered the people who ought to be at the center of this work.”
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