Last Thursday, January 4, the city of Minneapolis evicted the largest homeless encampment in South Minneapolis, known as Camp Nenookaasi. The camp, which is majority Native American, was located in the Phillips neighborhood at the intersection of 23rd Street and 13th Avenue.
The encampment was originally slated to be closed in December, but the city delayed the closure, saying it needed more time to coordinate with its housing and mental-health service partners.
In a statement on its website, Avivo, one of the city’s housing partners, said the January 4 Camp Nenookaasi eviction was still too soon, and that it supported another delay.
“Encampment evictions are an inhumane and ineffective solution to unsheltered homelessness,” Avivo said in a statement on its website. “The planned eviction on January 4 places residents at higher risk.”
The city cited crime, including a shooting in December, and a complaint letter from Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) as the reasons for evicting the encampment. Thursday’s eviction happened despite a federal class-action lawsuit filed against Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, asking for an immediate court order to stop the eviction.
Residents who filed the suit alleged that encampment evictions violate the constitutional rights of Minneapolis’ homeless population. Judge Eric Tostrud found that a camp eviction would not violate residents’ constitutional rights.
The city plans to build the “Mikwanedun Audisookon Art and Wellness Center,” an Indigenous-led community center, on the site where the encampment was located. The city is hoping to break ground for the center after the sale next month of the land parcel. Before the eviction of Camp Nenookaasi began, residents had already started setting up a new encampment located four blocks away at 26th Street and 14th Avenue.
Activists heavily criticized the eviction for taking place in winter, when there were not enough shelter beds available in Hennepin County to shelter the camp’s population. Eighty shelter beds were available Wednesday night, but the camp’s population was estimated to be double that number, at 160. The city says 19 Camp Nenookaasi residents were transported to shelter services on the day of the closure.
Not all people staying in the camp were interested in the shelter system. Many did not want to be split up from the community they had found at Camp Nenookaasi. One camp resident, Marissa (who did not give her last name), called the city’s assistance with housing “inconsistent.”
Marissa said that she was supposed to get a lease on an apartment the day of the eviction, but her caseworker never showed up. She says another camp resident’s promised housing move-in date was pushed back for months.
“We feel forgotten,” Marissa said. “We are still humans too, you know. And we are trying to make it.”
Chance Askenekte, who had been living at Camp Nenookaasi, said that it was difficult for many homeless people to find housing due to evictions or felony records. Askenekte said he had moved between seven different camps in the past year and compared the city’s current eviction policies with playing whack-a-mole.
“If we all had housing, there wouldn’t be no homeless encampment,” Askenekte said.
A coalition of camp residents, activists, Native American leaders, politicians, and outreach service providers held a press conference outside the camp condemning the decision to proceed with the eviction and called for better encampment response policies. Some outreach workers said that current encampment policies sometimes caused them to lose track of clients, making it harder to get them housed.
Sam Strong, secretary of the Red Lake Nation, criticized the government for not keeping its treaty obligations to Native Americans, and for not doing enough to provide housing, education, and health care to Native American communities.
“It’s important that we don’t think of [issues facing Native Americans] as just here in Camp Nenookaasi, because it’s all across the state,” Strong said. “It’s in Duluth. It’s in Bemidji. It’s on the reservations.
“[Native Americans] are the most forgotten and marginalized people in the entire country. We have the highest homelessness rate. We have the highest rate of educational disparities, the lowest attainment for higher education. And why is this? Because [the government’s] promises were not kept.”
Nicole Mason, one of the founders of Camp Nenookaasi, said the eviction was not a loss because the community came together. “Whether it’s here or somewhere else. I’m not going anywhere,” Mason said. “I will continue to live with the relatives until we’re living in permanent housing.”
Mason, along with Red Lake Nation leaders, met with Mayor Frey on Friday. After the meeting, Mason tweeted that the parties “are working on next steps to helping the people through healing and culture.”