Native group retakes Minneapolis homeless camp, decries 'unacceptable' lack of shelter

Tents sit in the snow
A Native American group erected a tepee and tent on the site of the former Minneapolis homeless encampment over the weekend.
Cody Nelson | MPR News

A tepee and a small camping tent stand again at the site of the former Minneapolis homeless encampment.

A group of activists reoccupied the site early Saturday in protest against what they consider a lack of progress by Minneapolis leaders in ensuring safe, stable housing for Native Americans without a place to stay.

“Our first nations people continue to suffer and are sleeping outside tonight,” the group said in a statement posted online. “The slow pace towards finding a solution is unacceptable and the community can no longer stand idle.

“We are here to inform you that we reject these attempts to brush the problem under the rug and will protect our homeless community at this location until they have a culturally specific overnight shelter.”

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Tents sit behind a fence
Locked fencing surrounds the former Minneapolis homeless encampment site.
Cody Nelson | MPR News

Last year, hundreds of people stayed for months at the site near a sound wall at the intersection of Franklin and Hiawatha avenues in Minneapolis. The site became known by some residents as the “Wall of Forgotten Natives.” At its height, the camp hosted more than 200 tents.

Authorities disbanded the camp about a year ago. Many residents moved into a nearby “navigation center” — heated tents with some health and social services that can house about 120 people.

But in the year since the homeless encampment dissolved, advocates for the homeless say housing woes are even worse in Minneapolis. A count in July found 723 people who were homeless in Minneapolis.

Catholic Charities recently announced a $65 million development in downtown Minneapolis that’ll house about 200 people once completed, but it’s not expected to open until fall 2021.

The group of activists who reoccupied the encampment site is calling for more than just a shelter — they want it to be tailored to Native Americans’ needs and come with other support programs.

Until that happens, the group says its tepee and tent will remain in place. Members say they agreed with city and state officials that they wouldn’t occupy the encampment site for now, and would leave only the tepee and tent. But if their requests aren’t met, they say they’ll set up another permanent encampment.

For now, the tepee and tent are cordoned off with fencing and “No Trespassing” signs.