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Minneapolis plans to close homeless camp once emergency shelter opens

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At the camp earlier this month.
At the camp earlier this month.
Max Nesterak | MPR News

 Updated: 9:20 p.m. | Posted: 3:41 p.m. 

Minneapolis officials said Tuesday they plan to close the homeless encampment once a nearby emergency shelter opens.  

Until now, it was unclear what would happen with the site along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues in south Minneapolis once the so-called navigation center opens. 

"The City and partners are working toward a plan to close the encampment after the Navigation Center is open and people have been relocated there. Given the weather and other conditions at the site, it is not a safe place for people," city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie said. 

The navigation center will be the first of its kind in Minnesota. It'll sit on Red Lake Nation land, per a plan the Minneapolis City Council OK'd in September. It will house around 120 people.

The City Council approved spending up to $1.5 million to build the shelter. Hennepin County will oversee the operation of the facility.

For those living at the encampment, finding housing is a struggle. Even when a potential tenant has rent money in hand, landlords may hesitate to work with someone who's homeless at the time. 

Some former camp residents have found housing, and the Red Lake Nation is raising money to help more people secure a living space.

But not everyone is willing to leave. Carol Redday, 39, said she's been homeless for about six months and staying at the camp for much of that time. 

With temperatures well below freezing Tuesday, she huddled with others around one of the many campfires, the smoke thick in the air. But Redday said she prefers her own tent to the big ones going up across the road. 

"Inside, you are going to have to sleep next to some stranger, like jail, like a cot next to one another. And a lot of these people aren't going to go for that," Redday said.

The camp with many Native American residents has swelled to more than 200 tents. Redday said some may resist efforts to clear it out.

"We'll put up a fight, because I don't think it's fair," she said.

Hennepin County, Minneapolis-based nonprofit Avivo, and the Red Lake Nation have moved several dozen people into housing and dozens more into shelter. 

This week the county joined a nationwide effort to examine the issue through the lens of race. 

The Boston-based Center for Social Innovation is studying how structural racism has exacerbated homelessness among people of color.

Alex Tittle, Hennepin County's disparity reduction director, said most homeless people in the county are people of color, many African-American and Native American.

"If we're the minority, why is the homeless population a majority people of color?" Tittle said. "There's a systemic issue in our housing rates, in our homelessness rates, our homeowner rates, our renter rates in Minnesota reflect that."