Minneapolis declares unsheltered homelessness public health emergency

Updated Dec. 8, 8:20 a.m. | Posted Dec. 7, 5:14 p.m.

The City of Minneapolis has declared unsheltered homelessness a public health emergency. And several council members called on the city to delay the closing of a large encampment scheduled for next week.

The city council unanimously passed a resolution with the declaration Thursday afternoon.

“Be it Further Resolved that the Minneapolis City Council, by declaring unsheltered homelessness a public health emergency, is committed to exploring all policies, actions, partnerships, and investments to urgently and meaningfully address this emergency alongside the Mayor of Minneapolis and City of Minneapolis workers and leaders,” reads the resolution.  

Council member Aisha Chughtai, who represents Ward 10, said unsheltered homelessness is becoming more visible around the city. 

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“Most of the time over the last couple of years the majority of the encampments have been in Ward 6 and Ward 9,” she said. “I know my ward is experiencing encampments and unsheltered homelessness at a rate we've never experienced before.”

Earlier this week, dozens of people spoke out at the council's final budget hearing to respond to the city's plans to close an encampment called Camp Nenookaasi, which is scheduled to be closed by the city next week.

Many people who testified at the hearing implored council members to intervene to stop the closing.  

Council member Jeremiah Ellison said he and his colleagues are taking those comments to heart. 

“A number of us wanted to be responsive to some of the testimony that we’ve heard and so this is a reflection of that response,” he said. 

The camp is organized by Native American volunteers and organizers, who say they’ve been able to help 74 residents find permanent housing and help many others get needed health care. 

City officials say the decision to close the encampment has been driven by ongoing public safety and public health issues. Last month, Minneapolis police were called to the site of the camp to aid a 20-year-old man who had been non-fatally shot.

A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis sent a statement following Tuesday’s public hearing 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. 

The Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors has also expressed health and safety concerns for camp residents and for surrounding neighbors. They have asked that the camp be moved and that a police presence remain the move is complete.

Eight city council members also penned a letter to Mayor Jacob Frey asking him to delay the closing of the camp.

“We can all agree that encampments are not the long term solution, nor should we consider living in a tent outside in subzero temperatures ‘dignified housing.’ But neither is the current approach carried out by the administration you lead,” reads the letter. “Without a permanent, dignified place to go, unhoused residents will continue to form new encampments after each closure.” 

The letter asks the city to delay the encampment closing until February 16, 2024. And it asks that in the meantime, the city and Hennepin County pursue all public health needs of members of the camp and nearby residents.  

The letter is signed by council members, Aisha Chughtai, Robin Wonsley, Jeremiah Ellison, Aurin Chowdhury, Jamal Osman, Elliott Payne, Jason Chavez and Emily Koski.