Mpls. council grapples with where to move homeless encampment

Heavy rain pours onto the homeless encampment.
Heavy rain pours onto the homeless encampment alongside Hiawatha Avenue on Thursday, Sept. 20 in Minneapolis.
Ellen Schmidt | MPR News

The Minneapolis City Council is expected to vote Friday on a plan to relocate a homeless encampment to a vacant lot nearby. A panel consisting of all council members spent three hours hearing from those who want a new place to live and those who strongly oppose one of the proposed sites near two charter schools.

In a divided vote, council members recommended the site near the schools, a city-owned 1.5-acre lot at East 26th Street and Minnehaha Avenue.

A toy rolls down the sidewalk in the rain at the homeless encampment
A toy rolls down the sidewalk in the rain at the homeless encampment off Hiawatha Avenue. Heavy rain pushed many occupants inside their tents but to get supplies for keeping dry.
Ellen Schmidt | MPR News

The camp of around 130 tents stretches for two blocks along a concrete sound barrier near Hiawatha and Franklin Avenues. It's become known as the "wall of forgotten natives," because many of the people living there are American Indian.

New residents arrive daily. Police and members of the group Natives Against Heroin patrol an area that includes portable toilets and temporary sinks. The encampment is illegal under city ordinance, but authorities have no plans to clear it without a replacement.

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Kariece Wilson, who has been homeless since 2015.
Kariece Wilson, who has been homeless since 2015, wraps electric tape around her broken umbrella at a homeless encampment.
Ellen Schmidt | MPR News

Residents say there are daily drug overdoses.

At the Minneapolis city council meeting, LaDonna Redmond talked about the death of her son, Wade, as she urged action particularly in the long term.

"My son did not have to die because he had an addiction, and no one else's child should die because they need help," Redmond said.

David Frank, the head of the community planning and economic development department, talked about two sites for what he called a "temporary navigation center." The other possible location was a parking lot of the former Roof Depot site south of the camp, not far from the Midtown Greenway.

The city bought the Roof Depot site with water fund money to expand an adjacent maintenance facility. Using the former industrial land that still needs remediation for a temporary camp would involve some bureaucratic maneuvering and poses challenges for installing utilities.

One side of the homeless encampment near the Little Earth neighborhood.
One side of the homeless encampment near the Little Earth neighborhood spans the sidewalk.
Ellen Schmidt | MPR News

City staff recommended the Minnehaha Avenue lot, next door to a charter school that serves mostly Latino students. School staff vehemently oppose putting the camp there.

"If this was a very-well resourced, non-diverse school I don't even think this would be considered a viable option," Council Member Alondra Cano said.

Frank says it would take $2 million to $2.5 million to build out a site with trailers and water and sewer hookups and run it for a year. That also includes fencing, lighting and security, but not all the social services that would be needed there.