No shelter from the summer heatwave
Last Thursday morning, August 25, Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDoT) officials evicted an encampment at East 22nd St. and Little Earth Trail, known as the “Wall of Forgotten Natives.” The encampment, located in the East Phillips neighborhood, was composed of mostly Native Americans from 14 different reservations.
Shortly thereafter, another encampment sweep occurred at 31st and Nicollet in what appeared to be a coordinated effort that left the homeless with few options leading up to a forecasted Labor Day heatwave.
The Spokesman-Recorder confirmed with Hennepin County that shelters were at 100 percent capacity and no shelter beds were available county-wide on August 26.
Just before state officials carried out the encampment evictions, activists held a press conference at the Wall of Forgotten Natives encampment. Nicole Mason of the American Indian Movement opened the press conference by saying that encampment evictions lead to relatives going missing.
“Please listen to the people this time,” Mason said. “The camp is clean, people are getting rest, being fed and hydrated. They are no longer alone.”
Minneapolis City Councilmember Jason Chavez also spoke at the press conference and called for money being used by the city for evictions to be reallocated to provide housing for unhoused residents. “I just want to say I’m sorry on my end,” Chavez said.
“I don’t think that I, as a council member, have done enough to support our unhoused neighbors and help them find dignified housing. But we have folks back here today that have power to make decisions, and we’re here to help support in any way we can.”
At the press conference, the demands included the creation of community hubs with resources for unhoused people, livable public spaces with warming and cooling centers, replication of successful shelter programs such as the Avivo Village, safe-use sites for drugs to reduce overdoses, and addressing the unsafe disposal of used needles.
Although they did not speak at the press conference, Councilmembers Aisha Chughtai and Robin Wonsley were present.
The state patrol arrived shortly after the end of the press conference. Activists and state troopers argued while officers cordoned off the area with yellow tape. But no physical confrontations occurred, and no arrests were made.
Mason argued that the camp could not be swept as they were having a Spirit Fire ritual for Dan Dan Robertson, a camp resident who passed away from heat stroke the day before. Mason alleges that officers and paramedics who responded to the call for Robertson did not give proper aid, and laughed at encampment residents who asked them to help.
The state troopers allowed the Spirit Fire to go undisturbed for about an hour and a half. After the encampment was cleared, state troopers formed a human barricade around the area.
Laci expressed frustration after the conversation with Schaap, saying she called the city’s shelter connect service that morning and was told the city had only two beds that were available. In the day prior, Laci had called the numbers for outreach workers the city had provided those living at the camp.
She said that she did not get an answer from Minneapolis Legal Process Coordinator Christina Dowling, and a second contact, Bobby Morrow, told Laci he no longer works for the city. (The Spokesman-Recorder attempted to call Morrow multiple times to confirm his employment, but the calls were unanswered.)
Blair Loose, Marketing and Communications Manager for Minneapolis confirmed that Morrow was employed at the city from March 2021 to Dec. 2022. Loose said the incorrect information for city contacts was due to MnDOT’s error.
“MnDOT had an error with the city contacts provided on the notice of closure [the day before the sweep],” Loose said. “Encampment response in Minneapolis is handled by a multi-jurisdictional group from both the City and Hennepin County.”
Laci also attempted to reach out to Governor Tim Walz’s office and MnDOT. Laci says the only person who responded out of four or five people called at MnDOT was Deputy Commissioner Kim Collins, who said she would “pass along the message.”
“It’s like a black hole,” Laci said regarding finding resources for unhoused people. “It’s just kind of surreal, like you’re casting a line into a vast ocean that’s like a dead zone. There’s nothing there.”
Melanie Brown lived at the original “Wall of Forgotten Natives” encampment in 2019. She found housing in 2020 but came out to the sweep to help people move possessions, because she knows what it is like to be homeless.
“One thing that held me back in 2020 was not being able to have a rental history or an income,” Brown said. “Now [a person’s income is required to be] three times the rent. There should just be more things out there for the homeless.”
Most of the people displaced by the sweep gathered their belongings at East Phillips Park, directly south of the encampment. Waylon Duran, who had been living at the camp after being evicted from his apartment nine days prior, said he had “no idea” where he would be going next.
“I’ll just follow whoever, I guess,” Duran said.
During his 2017 run for mayor, Jacob Frey campaigned on a promise of ending homelessness in five years. In response to the latest sweep, a spokesperson with the mayor’s office said the mayor announced a five-fold increase in the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority budget in 2024, an increase in funding to $18 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, a $2 million investment in the Minneapolis Homes program, replenishment of the Renter Relocation Fund, an investment of $1 million for funding additional shelters, and expanded renter protections.
The spokesperson for Frey did not respond to a question about whether the mayor plans to continue encampment evictions.
Update: This story was updated on Sept. 1, 2023, to include a response from Blair Loose, marketing and communications manager for the City of Minneapolis.