Minneapolis council members hope to create 'safe outdoor spaces' for homeless

Three Minneapolis council members are set to bring forth legislation to change how the city handles homeless encampments.

Council members Jason Chavez (Ward 9), Aisha Chughtai (Ward 10), and Aurin Chowdhury (Ward 12) gave notice on Thursday that they will introduce a trio of ordinances for consideration on the city's response to homeless encampments.

The measures come on the heels of the high-profile clearing of a homeless encampment in the Ventura Village neighborhood. Members of the city council had visited the encampment, dubbed Camp Nenookaasi by activists, and called on Mayor Frey's office not to move forward with the clearing.

The encampment itself had become a problem area, with dozens of 911 calls, a deadly shooting, and the discovery of a dead baby over recent months, leading up to the clearing on Jan. 4. 

City officials had delayed the clearing at least three times, to give encampment residents more time to find housing. Encampment residents even sued Mayor Frey to block the clearing, but a judge ultimately allowed the clearing to move forward. As a result, about 150 people were evicted from the encampment site.

The proposals that will be heard by the city council will focus on three areas: 1.) Creating "safe outdoor spaces" for people experiencing homelessness, 2.) Improving the city's encampment response, 3.) Making the city report whenever they clear an encampment.

The exact language of the change isn't clear yet, as the ordinances will be introduced at the next meeting. But, the council members briefly discussed them during Thursday's meeting.

"It's time we as the City of Minneapolis restore the dignity of unhoused residents across the city," said Chavez.

"I'm excited for us to take action," added Chowdhury, "so we can change the city's current practice of sweeping encampments, lacking a standard operating procedure that is codified, having accountability and transparency, and transform it into something where we are working towards reducing homelessness."

Critics of encampment clearing say the process is harmful for people who are homeless and can often cause more damage than good. Often, even after a clearing, residents will just move to a new location and start over -- which happened to a certain extent after Camp Nenookaasi was cleared. A study last year estimated that "involuntary displacement of people experiencing homelessness may yield substantial increases in morbidity and mortality over a 10-year period."

On the other hand, encampments can often become hotspots for crime, leaving neighbors feeling unsafe.

In recent years, the City of Minneapolis has offered more alternatives for shelters.