Federal judge clears way for Minneapolis to clear camp Nenookaasi

A federal judge on Wednesday cleared the path for the City of Minneapolis to evict the people living in a high profile encampment.

The sweep is scheduled for Thursday, and the ruling means the city can clear out camp Nenookaasi, but where the remaining residents go next is unknown.

About 150 people call the camp "home" as of Wednesday morning. Hennepin County’s dashboard notes they have 54 open shelter beds, so they appear to be short of space for about 100 of the camp’s residents. And almost all of the available space is only available for one night.

"We need long-term solutions, and we need a facility that we can heal our people through culture and our traditional ways," said Nicole "Grandma" Mason, a resident who manages the camp.

In four months, more than 100 people have moved from the camp to more permanent housing, and their attorneys credit camp leaders and the Hennepin County social workers who visit the camp every day to provide services.

Residents say city employees rarely come, but in a statement to media, the city says its Homeless Response Team made 16 site visits to the encampment.

The city issued a press release saying, in part:

"All of our encampment members deserve safe and dignified housing. An encampment – especially in winter – does not provide that. Additionally, the City must address the ongoing public health and safety issues, like a recent homicide at the encampment and the death of an infant."

They say they’ve gotten more than one hundred 911 calls about the camp in the last four months. But residents say they feel very safe and stable at Nenookaasi and Mason encourages them to pursue sobriety, employment, and permanent housing.

"I've never seen a place like, like this with the foundation that they have with thinking about the next step," said DeAnthony "King" Barnes, one of two listed plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit.

Both sides agreed the camp is not a permanent solution, but they disagree about how and when to move forward.

Eight of 13 council members asked the mayor to postpone the sweep until at least the end of February, but that seems highly unlikely now.

City of Minneapolis responds

In a statement Wednesday evening, the City of Minneapolis confirmed they would move ahead with the planned eviction, writing:

After today’s court ruling, City staff will be on site tomorrow to close the Nenookaasi encampment. For months, the City has been coordinating with government partners, community leaders, and service providers to offer housing, shelter, and other services to community members living in the encampment.

All our community members deserve safe and dignified housing. An encampment – especially in winter – does not provide that. Moreover, the increasingly dangerous conditions at the encampment mandate its closure. Within the past four months, the encampment has been the site of a fatal shooting, a drug overdose death, sexual assault, vandalism, open drug use, stray gunshots, complaints of human waste, and more than one hundred 9-1-1 calls.

The City has postponed the closure date two times already in order to allow dedicated time to work with service providers and get people directly connected to housing and shelter options. To date, 111 people from the encampment have been connected to housing or shelter. With help from Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota, Salvation Army and Rescue Now have added 90 beds to the shelter system this week. The City’s Homeless Response Team has also made 16 site visits to the encampment.

Our staff with the Homeless Response Team, along with the Hennepin Shelter Hotline and the Adult Shelter Connect, will continue to assist encampment residents access transportation, shelter, services, storage and other resources. Additional services will also be offered at the Mary F. Frey Minneapolis Opportunity Center tomorrow, including case management services, mental health resources, housing, shelter resources and healthcare, among other resources. Several leaders in the Native American community will also be present to assist. 

After the encampment is closed, pre-development activity for a new, Indigenous community center will start. The Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF) has a redevelopment agreement with the City for the site to construct the Mikwanedun Audisookon Art and Wellness Center and is planning to complete the purchase in February.