Largest Minneapolis homeless encampment, site of recent homicide, is torn down

Crews of state and county workers clear a large homeless encampment
Crews of state workers and State Patrol troopers clear a large homeless encampment in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on Wednesday morning.
Kerem Yucel | MPR News
Published: 5:57 p.m. Jan. 18 | Updated: 2:43 p.m. Jan. 20

Crews of state workers and State Patrol troopers spent hours clearing a large tent encampment in Minneapolis on Wednesday morning, forcing out those who’d been staying there for months.

The sprawling camp in Cedar-Riverside near 15th Ave. S and Sixth St. S had more than 80 tents at the time of eviction. Notably, it was recently equipped with portable toilets after City Council Member Jamal Osman and his staff pleaded for almost two months for state and city government to provide them.

Unlike recent encampment sweeps done by the city of Minneapolis, this closure was carried out by state and county employees because of the camp’s location in the city near several major interstates. The state dictates the use of that area.

Notices from the state were posted onto tents Tuesday saying the site would be “permanently cleared” beginning 9 a.m. Wednesday. The state gave residents 24 hours to leave and remove their belongings or else crews would throw their things away, according to the notice. 

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The notice came just days after 27-year-old Adnan Mohamed Ali was fatally shot inside of the encampment in the early morning hours on Thursday. Many residents told MPR News that Ali didn’t live at the camp or that they didn’t know him. 

Crews of state and county workers clear a large homeless encampment
Workers contracted by the state tear down tents and ready the encampment site to be cleared with heavy machinery.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Eric, who chose not to share his last name for privacy, has been staying at the Cedar-Riverside encampment since it first got started in the fall. When asked about last week’s shooting, he said he knew it would be a catalyst for eviction.

“Anywhere you go, there’s gonna be problems and violence. Are they gonna keep moving us around every time something happens?” He said. “You got people who ain’t got nothing to do with none of that. They jeopardizing them and making them leave, like me.”

Council Member Osman responded to the shooting in a statement last week that called for the state transportation department to close the camp as soon as possible.

“The governor, MnDOT and everyone else involved have avoided responsibility, passed off blame and used accounting as excuses to ignore a homeless encampment in the middle of Cedar-Riverside,” Osman said in his statement. 

Crews of state and county workers clear a large homeless encampment
Cedar-Riverside encampment residents exit the area during Wednesday morning's eviction.
Kerem Yucel/MPR News

The eviction was carried out by approximately 100 Minnesota State Patrol troopers who mostly guarded off certain areas, a handful of state employees who helped manage the scene, and a crew of a couple dozen contractors who tore down the encampment. A Hennepin County spokesperson said county outreach workers also were at the encampment Tuesday and very early Wednesday to assist residents with storage, transportation and shelter support, in addition to visits over the past couple of weeks.

Workers went tent to tent, asking each person to collect their belongings and leave. Once tents were empty, workers slashed them, flattened them and removed their contents. Three small Bobcats followed behind and combined everything that remained into piles to pick up, bring to a larger bulldozer and be dumped. Troopers did not interact with encampment residents.

The city of Minneapolis cleared a different longstanding encampment without warning last month. The closure of the camp near the Quarry shopping center in northeast Minneapolis was initially scheduled with a week’s notice. After dozens of protesters showed up on the scheduled closure day, blocking the camp’s entrance with cars and wooden pallets, the city postponed its plan.

City workers and Minneapolis police showed up two days later and forced the encampment out. Some residents said officers ridiculed them in the process.

There was no large-scale presence of protesters in Cedar-Riverside on Wednesday. One person was arrested while heckling a line of troopers. According to the state patrol’s office, the person hit a trooper in the face and was arrested on suspicion of fourth degree assault and obstruction with force. 

Residents piled as much as they could into strollers and carts but had to leave the rest behind. Many people took their stuff to the nearest place to sit — the light rail station directly across the street. It was temporary shelter from the cold where people could determine where to go next.

Every few minutes, a voice over the intercom would announce that the Cedar-Riverside light rail station was closed and that no trains would be stopping. People were asked to leave the platforms and told about a nearby bus route. 

Most people had at minimum one cart’s worth of belongings, which would not be allowed on a city bus.

MPR News asked several groups of people where they thought they might relocate. None of them had ideas. Many of them had moved from other evicted encampments. Cedar-Riverside was the largest encampment left in the city.

A winter weather advisory is in place beginning Wednesday night through Thursday afternoon, with 3 to 6 inches of snow expected in the Twin Cities.

Editor’s note (Jan. 20, 2023): This story has been updated to clarify the state and county’s roles in closing the encampment.