The city has indefinitely postponed the slated eviction of Camp Nenookaasi, an unhoused encampment at 23rd Street and 13th Avenue in south Minneapolis. The city says it wants to clear the encampment because of complaints of crime and drug use from nearby neighbors and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID).
The camp, which is populated mostly by Native Americans, has erected yurts equipped with woodfire stoves at the site, including one serving as a kitchen, as well as a program run by camp leaders trying to help residents get sober.
The encampment also has regular trash collection and portable toilets after months of appeals to city officials. Activists say that allowing the encampment to remain is the most humane option, while waiting to secure residents permanent housing.
Activists also heavily criticized clearing any encampments in winter with few shelter beds available. On Saturday, only 44 shelter beds were available county-wide—far fewer than the estimated population of about 200 people living at Camp Nenookaasi.
Christin Crabtree, who volunteers at the camp, said that the encampment gives people the stability needed to find permanent housing. “At Nenookaasi, there is the ability to stay warm, keep one’s belly full, access to a bathroom, and outreach from Hennepin County, as well as several service providers and organizations throughout the week,” Crabtree said.
“Nenookaasi is imperfect because people are imperfect. Every day is a practice in learning and doing better. We are interrupting harm and increasing survival. You have to survive to be housed. You have to survive to heal.”
Sarah McKenzie, the media relations coordinator for Minneapolis, cited “several public safety and health concerns” as the city’s reason for wanting to close the camp. McKenzie referenced a letter from Ryan Salmon, the interim chair of Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID), demanding the camp be closed. Salmon alleged numerous safety concerns at the camp, including open drug use and sex acts.
“Not only are crimes being committed regularly, but they are also being hidden from police with threats of, and physical acts of, violence to those who would normally report,” Salmon alleged in the letter.
Since Camp Nenookaasi emerged several months ago, 45-year-old Tyrone Mohr was fatally shot at the encampment on Dec. 12, and a baby was found dead at the camp in October.
Nicole Mason, one of the leaders of the camp, acknowledges the camp has had some issues, but said that people were able to heal in the encampment. Mason is trying to help get residents into drug treatment programs and uses traditional Native American techniques to try and help people in the camp get sober. She believes that Nenookaasi is being unjustly targeted because it is a majority Native American camp.
“We are known as the camp with the dead baby. You know, the shooting,” Mason said. “But this happens all over the South Side. It happens in peoples’ homes. And very little police or press attention gets targeted towards crimes that happen across our city’s homes, because it’s not an encampment or because they’re not Indigenous people.”
The camp was originally scheduled for eviction on December 14, but the date was pushed ahead to December 19. The city has since delayed the encampment eviction date indefinitely, saying it needs time to find social services partners to support unhoused people at the camp.
“Once we have a plan in place with those partners, the closure will happen because we need to address the ongoing public health and safety issues at the encampment, including a fatal shooting in the encampment last week,” McKenzie said.
Crabtree believes the real reason for the delays is the large-scale activists’ organizing tactics such that they could not be ignored. She saw the delay as a victory for the encampment and activists.
“The pause on eviction creates an opportunity for us to act on our collective responsibility, chart a new path forward, and create the possibility for meaningful policy change,” Crabtree said. “I think a lot of people lack information on how systems actually work, or don’t. And I think many of us lack curiosity. We need to ask more questions.”
Activists held a rally and marched to the encampment on December 13. One camp resident cried at the sight of the crowd and said she did not know so many people cared about the unhoused.
Leaders of the camp have put out the “Nenookaasi Homeless Response Action Plan,” outlining their principles, goals, and proposed protocols. One of the protocols in the action plan says that “camp closure is achieved by housing residents.” They also want to see the opening of a cultural healing center and create a location where Camp Nenookaasi can be permanently established.
“That’s all I want is for our people to heal. I want more culturally based recovery services, with traditional healings. That’s what our people need,” Mason said. “A lot of them didn’t know a lot of our traditions.”
McKenzie has confirmed that one of their social services partners has managed to get 45 residents of the encampment into permanent housing, with 46 more scheduled to move into permanent housing soon.