Minneapolis clears homeless encampment in Phillips West neighborhood

Reaching out to the homeless

Reaching out to the homeless

Like all of us, Kat Countryman has a story.

“If you’re homeless, you need to have somebody that will listen,” she says. “Not just pretend to listen, but really listen.”

Without permanent shelter for nearly three years, she’s living on the front porch of the Peace House Community, with her cats Nalah, Sunshine, and Precious.

Better than living on the streets, Countryman says.

“It’s scary out there, and it’s getting worse by the day,” she explains.   

Countryman, 63, is well aware of the cycle of encampments being set up in the city, then cleared out.

The latest, on Thursday morning, in the West Phillips neighborhood.

“You can’t help a homeless person where they have nowhere to go,” Countryman says. “When they try to settle into an encampment, they tear it down.”

This is the 4th in the city to be cleared in recent months— authorities citing health and safety issues.

MPD records show a history of calls to the encampment, including those involving violence and drug use.

“Basically, you have people with no resources, nowhere to live,” says Marti Maltby, the Executive Director of Peace House Community. “Unfortunately, homeless camps attract predators, drug dealers, sex traffickers.”

Peace House provides hot meals and services for about 125 people a day.

Most are experiencing homelessness.

Maltby believes a secured, urban campground, like those set up in Denver, might be a solution.

“One of the reasons a lot of the long term homeless would like to have an urban campground, it would give them a safe space,” he notes. “If it was well run- where they are still around their friends and still get a chance to be part of the community – so, establish a campsite, have it monitored, have some sort of security to make it safe.”  

The idea has been debated by some Minneapolis City Council members.

“It’s housing, it’s stability, it’s health care,” says John Tribbett, the Director for Street Outreach, with Avivo. “The evictions don’t seem to be the best way to do things. We’re all committed to get people off the street, but we need more resources.”  

He says permanent housing is key.

“People are unfortunately adapted to it being a fairly routine reality they’re going to get displaced,” Tribbett says. “Anything that provides increased levels of safety, predictability, and dignity is a step in the right direction.”

“There are no simple answers, really,” Maltby adds. “We need four, five, or six different approaches. And they will each work well with a certain subgroup of the homeless population.”

Countryman, meanwhile, says she’s lucky.

After a long search, she learned Wednesday that Hennepin County has found her an apartment home.

She’s scheduled to move in on May 1st.

“I need a place where I can lock the door and shut out the whole world,” Countryman says. “You can’t do that in a tent, you can’t do that when you’re sleeping outside.”  

As previously reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, a neighbor said a group of residents in the area wrote to the mayor and city leaders, asking them to remove the encampment shortly after it was set up.

A spokesperson for the city says officials posted notice of the plans to close the encampment on April 10. Eight days later, they are closing it down. The city added that residents were given time to gather their belongings before leaving the encampment and outreach teams were also on-site to try to connect residents to more permanent housing.

Twin Cities Development has rights for the site to build a mixed-use apartment building.