Minneapolis police and city officials conducted an early-morning clearing of an established homeless encampment in the Near North neighborhood Thursday, prompting criticism from anti-poverty advocates.
A large number of police and city workers cleared out the Near North neighborhood encampment Thursday morning, at 205 Girard Ave. N., with those at the camp saying they were given little time to respond and gather their belongings.
A City of Minneapolis spokesman claims the area "posed public safety and public health challenges" and was being "used as a storage area for stolen goods."
"The City's homeless response team has made frequent visits to the site in the past two years to provide information about services and shelter options, but the majority of people living at the encampment have declined those resources as well as an opportunity to store their personal belongings through the Downtown Improvement District," the spokesperson told Bring Me The News.
"'No trespassing' signs have been posted at the site multiple times prior to today’s closure. City crews provided ample time for people to gather their personal items, important paperwork, and other valuables they own before crews started clearing the site."
However, according to encampments spokesperson Reed Eliot, the unhoused residents had little time to act.
"The Near North Encampment was evicted this morning, the residents scattered, with five minutes of notice to residents to collect what they could and leave," he said in a statement.
"Squad cars, police bicycle units, SWAT vans, arrest vans, undercover cars and multiple semi trucks rolled up to the camp en masse just before 7 a.m. and began setting up roadblocks," Eliot said, adding that police appeared to arrest two encampment defenders for "obstruction."
Eliot says a person had recently secured housing but lost her keys and phone in the eviction. She reportedly wasn't allowed by police to go back and get the items. Another person had their car towed away, with others losing their tents and campers.
Eliot claims "thousands of dollars" put into resources, supplies, warm weather clothing, food and medicine "were destroyed."
"Many residents lost every personal possession they owned, including medications, documents, phones and warm clothing for the cold nights ahead," Eliot said, adding that "only housing solves the economic, personal and growing crisis of houselessness."
Benjamin Melançon, who was at the site Thursday morning, called the clearing an "evil act." Melançon believes both the city and police could collaborate better in creating better solutions.
"The city could have non-violently offered people even six months [to stay] at a motel or [living space] and people would have moved. Instead, the city offered nothing," Melançon said.
Even with the city stating they have offered different living situations and that people have "declined" the options given, Melançon says most people he has spoken with are critical of the shelter spaces available for a multitude of reasons.
"People have demonstrated willingness to stay outside in -20 degree weather rather than go into 'adequate safe shelter space', and temporary shelter is no replacement for a long-term camp."
Melançon claims that it becomes more difficult for those seeking shelter to get in contact with social workers and other resources when staying at temporary shelters.
The city said that the closures of the encampments happen when "conditions become dangerous or encampment residents refuse to engage in the services that will change their circumstances."
According to the city, its Homeless Response Team visited the encampment 27 times from July to September, "providing outreach, engagement, storage and shelter options."
The city said the Near North site is close to a future affordable housing development that's set to break ground next week.
"It will include 187 rental units that include some affordable units. Closing this encampment is important to ensure the success of that project," the city stated.
Last week, police cleared out a homeless encampment near the Greenway on E 28th St. and Bloomington Ave. The city said this was because it was on private property, with the clearing carried out in collaboration with the property owner, but some community members are voicing their complaints.
The latest claims that unhoused residents' personal belongings are being thrown out, confiscated or destroyed comes at a time when the city is facing a federal lawsuit for the same alleged actions.
The lawsuit was filed in October 2020 by the ACLU of Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Ballard Spahr.
The federal class action lawsuit alleges that Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and specific officials in each agency "conducted 'sweeps' during which [they] seized and destroyed the property of persons experiencing unsheltered homelessness who live in encampments in Minneapolis parks."
Eliot said anyone looking to help out those affected by the removal Thursday morning should direct donations and useful items to the Sanctuary Supply Depot.