Internal City Emails Show St. Paul Leaders Set Nov. 1 Deadline to Close Homeless Camp

November 15, 2018 11:17 AM

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS obtained more than a hundred pages of emails, from the city of St. Paul, which shows growing concern about a homeless encampment along I-35 on Cathedral Hill and a Nov. 1 deadline to close it.

In an email dated Oct. 8, Deputy Director of Safety and Inspections, Travis Bistodeau, said: "The Mayor supports the communication with campers that the occupation of the camp will not be allowed after November 1 as other homeless shelter resources become available."


Bistodeau also sent another email dated the same day to Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher, which said the camp had, since July 1: "One sexual assault investigation, one aggravated domestic assault, three reports of fires/explosions and 21 calls of a person down and/or person in crisis, 21 reports of assaults, threats, aggressive behavior, fights and/or harassment."

In the email exchanges, the city noted there had been 93 citizen complaints since July 1 about the homeless camp and Barb Betz was among them.

"It is a safety concern right now in my neighborhood and I have been affected," Betz told KSTP. "It can be very unsanitary at the camp and most of the people are really, really nice but some have mental health issues and I have been threatened."

Betz did receive an email response, to her concerns, from the office of City Council member, Rebecca Noecker, who represents Ward 2 where the homeless camp is located.

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In the Noecker staff email to Betz on Sept. 27, the council member's office told her, "The area near 35E has been a problem in the past, but as you point out, it's growing. [Department of Safety and Inspections] and the police continues monitoring that area and clears it pretty quickly. We do not believe a permanent campground to develop like Minneapolis, and [Noecker] will be working with St. Paul Police and the Mayor's Office to identify other, safer places where these residents can be directed."

In the email conversations, city staff and advocates for homeless people estimate there are 25 tents set up at the camp with approximately 30 people living there.

On Sept. 14, RN Mira Miller, with Healthcare for the Homeless, sent an email to homeless advocates and Ramsey County officials and said: "There is concern for fecal-borne infectious disease (Hepatitis-A, not to mention good, old-fashioned e-coli) with increasingly larger numbers of campers defecating on the hillside near their tents."

Miller's email also said the camp needed protective trash bins "to prevent people from attempting to reach in and re-use syringes."

A Ramsey County survey conducted in 2017, for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, showed the number of homeless people was at its highest point in the county, in five years, with an estimated 1,438 people living without homes.

That same Ramsey County survey said, "Stagnant wages, skyrocketing rents and a lack of affordable housing were the biggest contributors to a rising rate of homeless people in cities across the United States."

The emails also showed the city has no intention of "criminalizing" homelessness and that moving people from the tent city was to be handled with "dignity and respect" toward those living there.

The city also decided to open its "Winter Safe Space" program a month earlier than usual to give people a chance to utilize the lower level of the government center.

The "Winter Safe Space" will open November 1, which is the same day the homeless camp will close and city leaders are working with advocates for the homeless to help some of those people utilize "Winter Safe Space."

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Jay Kolls

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