Judge rules Minneapolis can move ahead with Camp Nenookaasi eviction Thursday, organizers call on city to halt it
It appears the clocking is ticking — with just hours to go — for Camp Nenookaaski, a homeless encampment in Minneapolis’ Ventura Village neighborhood.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Eric Tostrud denied a request to pause a plan by city leaders to clear out the camp, now home to more than 150 people.
“I don’t know who they think they are, for telling us where we can or cannot live,” declared Nicole Mason, a camp organizer.
Members of the encampment sued Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday in hopes of halting the planned eviction until all residents were guaranteed safe and stable housing.
The camp at the corner of 13th Avenue South and 23rd Street East has been growing for nearly four months.
“An eviction that is going to happen [Thursday], it’s not OK to begin with,” said Ward 9 City Council Member Jason Chavez. “It’s going to hurt a lot of people, lead to deaths of community members who have no place to go.”
But the city says the camp is a safety and public health concern.
In a statement Wednesday, Minneapolis spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said city staff will be there Thursday morning to close the site down.
“All our community members deserve safe and dignified housing. An encampment — especially in winter — does not provide that,” McKenzie said. “Moreover, the increasingly dangerous conditions at the encampment mandate its closure. Within the past four months, the encampment has been the site of a fatal shooting, a drug overdose death, sexual assault, vandalism, open drug use, stray gunshots, complaints of human waste, and more than one hundred 9-1-1 calls.”
Mason says the encampment does have its problems but adds it’s become a community where people can connect with housing services, health care and outreach workers.
“Anybody that wants to go to shelter is welcome to go to shelter,” she notes. “But what they have right here is community. If they were out there on their own, we would have seen so many more deaths.”
The city had planned to close the encampment on Dec. 14 and Dec. 19, but those dates were both postponed to continue efforts to find housing options for those living at the encampment.
As of Wednesday, a city spokesperson said 111 people at the encampment had been connected with housing or shelter options. Additionally, the city said the Salvation Army and Rescue Now have added 90 shelter beds.
Mason and Chavez say permanent housing, not shelters, is the answer.
“We’re committed to funding a healing center where people can move indoors and move into permanent housing that they all want and deserve,” Chavez says.
But the council member says that can’t be done if the eviction goes forward.
Chavez says he’s been in communication with fellow council members and the mayor’s office to try to work out a solution.
“My hope is that the eviction can be called and that the administration and the city council can work together with folks that live so we can find that place,” he explained.
Mason says she is disappointed in Wednesday’s decision and said the planned eviction is a continuation of policies that harm Indigenous people.
“Our system has let down Indigenous people for hundreds of years,” she said. “When is it time to let us heal our people in our own cultural ways? It’s time for us to win.”
Ultimately, Mason said encampments will likely keep popping up until permanent housing is available for all who need it.
“We’re not trying to have permanent encampments because nobody here wants to continue living in a tent,” she said. “Maybe there’s the few that’s loving that life, but I can tell you out of these people, over 150 at least will say they want permanent housing and a place to call their own.”
The city says staffers with the homeless response team will help residents with transportation, shelter, storage and other services and that after the camp is cleared, pre-activity for a new Indigenous community center will start.
Mason wasn’t making any predictions about what will happen Thursday, but she vowed to continue her work.
“Come tomorrow and find out,” Mason says. “I’m not going to stop until everyone here is housed. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be out here in below-zero weather. I’ll be here day and night along with them.”