The Minneapolis City Council passed a $1.8 billion budget for next year at a meeting on Tuesday evening, even as supporters of the south Minneapolis homeless encampment Camp Nenookaasi rallied outside council chambers after organizers said they received an eviction notice from the city.
Camp organizer Nicole Mason said there are still 187 people living at the camp while volunteers try to find housing for them. She said the camp, which uses Native practices, has helped house 74 people in almost four months.
“Where are they supposed to go? It’s cold, at least we’re able to provide some warmth, there’s not shelter beds for them,” Mason said. “It’s not anything that I’ve asked for this camp to be a forever thing. It’s only to get enough people housed, to keep them safe in the meantime.”
More than 60 people testified at the final public hearing on the city’s budget, many asking the council to intervene on the camp’s behalf and arguing that people will die if the camp is evicted.
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Aaron Johnson told the council that he’s been homeless many times during his life.
“All the shootings and crime and fires that happen in Minneapolis, you use that to justify the violence [of eviction],” Johnson said.
Council President Andrea Jenkins thanked camp supporters and others for their testimony and said city council and city staff exist to help resolve these issues.
“This is work that we all have to do together. The fact that neighbors are standing up and supporting neighbors is the kind of community that we all should be proud to live in,” Jenkins said.
The council heard a report this spring on the city’s approach to closing encampments. Several council members pushed back strongly against the use of evictions and questioned whether the tactic reduces homelessness.
The eviction of the camp was announced after Minneapolis police were called to the site of camp last Wednesday to aid a 20-year-old man who had been non-fatally shot.
A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis sent a statement that said homeless outreach teams with Hennepin County have visited the camp five times and that the Streets to Housing program has helped 13 people find housing.
“Encampments are not sanctioned by the city of Minneapolis and do not reflect a healthy living arrangement for unsheltered residents,“ according to the city’s statement. “As a city, we are evaluating how we can adjust our response to unsheltered homelessness and are keeping all options open as we study best practices, work on emerging partnerships.”
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said after the meeting that he is available to do what he can to help residents of the camp and thanked supporters for their testimony. Other council members also said they oppose the eviction, but Council Member Jamal Osman noted that the council doesn’t have authority to stop it.
The mayor’s priorities in next year’s budget include addressing climate change, creating economic inclusion and promoting affordable housing, specifically through a boost to the city’s affordable housing trust.
The mayor’s proposed budget also contained greater investments in public safety, including funding to cover the costs of a court-enforced settlement agreement with the state Department of Human Rights and an expected federal consent decree.
It also raises the budget for the city’s Behavioral Crisis Response program and covers the costs of employing 731 police officers required by the city’s charter.
On Tuesday, the council also approved the mayor’s proposed 6.2 percent levy increase, which will cost the median homeowner in the city between $150-$160 more than last year’s property taxes. The levy increase raises $27.7 million, according to city budget director Jayne Discenza.
The council spent two days last week amending the mayor’s proposed budget. Council members shifted more than $30 million through nearly four dozen amendments, including significant investments in non-police public safety, including in the area covered by the 3rd Precinct.
The council created a program to address hate crimes, support for immigrants and refugees and set aside money for the city’s lowest-paid employees. Other spending includes funds for the city’s popular Open Streets festivals, traffic calming and sidewalk snow and ice removal projects.
Frey said in a statement that the budget is making an investment in the basic services of government.
“Our residents want a safe community, thriving small and local businesses, actionable progress on the climate crisis, and an affordable place to call home,” Frey said. “These are things we can and will deliver on.”
The mayor has not signaled whether he’ll sign the budget but said he’s optimistic.