Minneapolis to clear second Camp Nenookaasi location following virus outbreak

Health concerns at Minneapolis homeless encampment

Health concerns at Minneapolis homeless encampment

City officials on Monday said they plan to clear a large south Minneapolis homeless encampment “soon” after a viral gastroenteritis outbreak associated with the camp sent one person to the hospital late last week.

It would be the second closure of Camp Nenookaasi, which is now located at 14th Avenue South and 26th Street East, a few blocks south of its original location. The city closed that one earlier this month.

The city’s epidemiology team on Monday was continuing to monitor the stomach flu outbreak that 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS learned of from an obtained internal email from Deputy Health Commissioner Heidi Ritchie to city leadership, including Mayor Jacob Frey and City Councilmembers.

The city was alerted to the outbreak on Thursday, Ritchie said in an interview on Monday. There were 20 to 30 cases, and one person was treated and released from the hospital, she said, adding there have been no new cases since Friday.

Asked what the source of the infection was, Ritchie said, “That we don’t know. This is norovirus season. And we’re not 100% sure if it’s norovirus, but that would be consistent with what the symptoms are … which is generally caused by food.”

The city dropped off a number of sanitation supplies, including bleach solution and new port-a-potties.

“The encampment residents and the organizers are really serious about making sure that they’re addressing and working with us on those interventions. So that’s one of the reasons why we think that there has been no new cases,” Ritchie said.

“We’ve been working really hard to ensure the health of everyone here, and we’ve been doing that since August when we first came together,” said camp organizer Christin Crabtree. “We’ve been working for a long time to get bathrooms, and that took months.”

Back in December, when the city set its first date to clear the original site, officials cited the potential for such outbreaks as a reason.

As of Monday, City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher said there’s not an official date, but the city will soon shut down the newer, smaller encampment, too.

“One of the concerns at any time that we have people camping outdoors in Minneapolis, whatever size of that encampment is, is there’s a multitude of public health risks that can happen,” Anderson Kelliher said.

In response, Crabtree said, “We have not been notified of any specific timing, just that it might happen, which is anxiety-inducing.”

“Chances are the camp will end up just moving again. That is not a solution,” Crabtree added.

The viral illness “does not pose a risk to anyone who does not live at the encampment,” city communications said in a statement on Monday afternoon.

In another new development, Anderson Kelliher said the city is considering dedicating some land to a healing center, like camp organizers have been calling for. Beyond the land transfer, this would likely not be a city-funded project, she said, but it was only a preliminary discussion as of Monday.