Minneapolis City Council declines pausing homeless encampment evictions

Tents and makeshift structures stand at an encampment of unhoused people.
As shown in April, an encampment in the Near North neighborhood is one of several recently evicted by police in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

In the wake of two police clearings of homeless encampments in the past month that led some homeless people to pitch tents outside City Hall in protest, the Minneapolis City Council on Thursday declined to take concrete action on the clearings, at one point questioning if that would even be within their control.

The 13-member council voted against a proposal to temporarily stop evicting tent encampments in the city, a practice carried out by Minneapolis police in which homeless residents are given little notice, lose their belongings and aren’t often provided an alternative place to go.

“We should be striving for every resident in this city to be housed,” said Council Member Aisha Chughtai, who brought the eviction moratorium proposal to Thursday’s meeting. “That’s not the world we live in, and a policy and practice on homeless encampments that centers human dignity and safety is the least we can offer residents.”

Chughtai’s proposal received yes votes from council members Robin Wonsley, Elliott Payne, Jason Chavez and Jeremiah Ellison. Council members LaTrisha Vetaw, Michael Rainville, Lisa Goodman, Andrew Johnson, Jamal Osman, Emily Koski, Linea Palmisano and Andrea Jenkins declined to move forward with the temporary moratorium. Those council members questioned whether pausing evictions is something the council has authority to do. 

An end to encampment evictions was the primary request from dozens of activists and homeless residents who filled the room at a council committee meeting last week. This came after two recent encampment clearings in recent weeks — first in south Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood and then the long-standing camp in Near North. 

Several residents of those encampments moved their tents to the sidewalk outside City Hall earlier this month, pressing the city to take a different approach to the complex and layered issue of housing and homelessness in Minneapolis.

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Homeless people and advocates have set up a tent encampment
Tents lined the entrance to City Hall last week as homeless residents alongside advocates protested the city's police clearing of local encampments.
Jon Collins | MPR News

The same eight council members also rejected Council Member Elliott Payne’s resolution to change the city’s current encampment sweeping practices, such as requiring the city to confirm each resident will have access to a shelter bed that accommodates their cultural, medical, religious or family needs before an eviction is carried out. 

Payne also proposed giving homeless residents and city staff, including the City Council, a minimum of seven days notice of a camp clearing and providing storage of peoples’ belongings for the duration of the notice to vacate.

“We are not acting on any ordinance language or policy on encampment responses,” said council member Robin Wonsley, in support of revising the approach to evictions. “It’s being made up as we go.”

Those in disagreement again said this wasn’t work appropriate for the council and that members should focus on working with the mayor’s office, the county and other departments involved on the issue. Wonsley noted that she and the council members who brought forward Thursday’s proposals have been trying to do so “literally since our very first week.” Wonsley was elected last year, along with Payne, Rainville, Vetaw, Chavez, Chughtai and Koski.

Mayor Jacob Frey was present for the first portion of Thursday’s council meeting but left before any discussion about homeless encampments or evictions.

Two other measures regarding homelessness that were brought to Thursday’s meeting got approval. 

The council approved a directive Chughtai brought forward requiring the city to report the total cost of closing encampments over the last five years. 

“Encampment sweeps are costly with estimates that range as high as six figures per removal, and take away funding and resources that could go to supporting unhoused residents with basic services and needs – and to all residents,” Chughtai said.

A person uses an excavator to tear down a tent.
A city employee uses heavy machinery to evacuate one of two large encampments in Powderhorn Park in July 2020.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

The approved measure also requires the city to create a report on the past five years of health and safety impacts from camp closures – including overdoses; injuries to city staff, residents or bystanders; and the spread of viruses like HIV and COVID-19.

A directive from Council Member Jason Chavez related to police involvement in removing encampments also passed: City staff will analyze and then recommend an updated eviction process with minimal or no law enforcement involvement and present it to the City Council by end of year. 

Recent evictions saw a heightened police presence with multiple blocks taped off in all directions surrounding encampments. Chavez said he received many emails from residents who saw the large police presence and worried a heinous crime took place in their neighborhood. 

Each move by the council will go before Mayor Frey for him to sign or veto within five days. A mayoral veto goes automatically to the next council meeting’s agenda for a potential veto override vote.