With her hands still covered in paint, Melanie Groves motions towards a yellow and blue tent on the sidewalk outside Minneapolis City Hall. A mural on the side of the tent says, “Unhoused not homeless. This is my home.”
Groves is one of dozens of activists and unhoused people who set up a tent protest encampment this week in between Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center. The protest comes in the wake of two recent evictions of large tent encampments in northeast and north Minneapolis in recent weeks.
The residents of the protest camp want the city to declare a moratorium on evictions. Groves said she’s been evicted from three sites in just the last week. Groves said the evictions give residents little time to gather belongings or find other housing, and often lead to worse outcomes for people struggling with mental health or drug use.
“We aren't homeless, when we live in these communities, these encampments, we're unhoused,” Groves said. “We may not have a shelter that's any more than a nylon tent, but that's important. It keeps us alive. It keeps us safe. And the city doesn't care."
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Groves started living in a tent about a year ago after her partner experienced health problems and she couldn’t access any of the available assistance. A former advocate for homeless people, she said the government needs to more actively help people get into safe housing.
“There’s no such thing as affordable housing here. If there were actual affordable housing, there would be no encampments,” Groves said. “No one wants to be out here in a Minnesota winter living in a tent, with no water, with no food, with no access to heat.”
Activists set up the protest on Sunday night. By Monday morning it had grown to five tents, a couple canopies and banners, including one draped in front of a statue of former Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey, which read “Stop the sweeps. No evictions on stolen land.”
The tent protest organizers also started collecting supplies Monday morning to help people survive as temperatures drop. Jamie McCarter was staffing a table Monday morning that was overflowing with donations including warm clothes, hand warmers and sleeping bags.
McCarter himself has recently found himself sleeping on light rail trains after his truck was impounded during a recent encampment eviction. He wondered how it makes sense that thousands of people are living on the streets in such a wealthy state. The median household income in Minnesota in 2019 was about $75,000, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. That’s higher than the country’s median income of about $66,000.
“I know exactly how it feels in the street, I know how it feels to not be able to wake up in the morning and brush your teeth and wash your face,” McCarter said. “It's like, how can you start a new day, if you still have yesterday's face on?”
Minnesota's poverty rate was nine percent in 2019, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. But Minnesota has some of the largest racial disparities in the country, with 31.3 percent of American Indian or Alaskan Natives and 28.6 percent of Black people living in poverty.
People at the tent protest said they hoped Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey would meet with them to listen directly to their concerns. As of Monday morning, no one from the mayor’s office or city council members had stopped by to talk to them yet.
Raising the public’s awareness about the challenges facing homeless people is another reason they set up the tent protest, said Tamera Hoveland. She said it allows people experiencing homelessness to tell their own stories about what they’re going through rather than relying on social workers or professional advocates.
There is no exact timeline for how long the tent protest might last. Legal observers are on hand in case city officials decide to evict them.
Minneapolis has created a Homeless Response Team to address encampments. The city said the effort’s goal is to connect people to housing, medical and transportation services. The city’s website also outlines the process staff use for evicting and encampment and offers advice to property owners.
In all of Hennepin County in 2022, an annual count found that more that almost 2,700 people were living in shelters, transitional housing or on the streets.