Minneapolis homeless encampment building yurts for winter protection

A homeless encampment in the Phillips neighborhood is taking a unique approach to getting ready for winter. They’re raising money to build yurts and built the first ones just in time for the cold storm on Thursday and Friday.

Staying warm in cold weather is hard for people without homes. But at Camp Nenookaasi, they’re hoping they found a safe solution.

Nicole Mason is known as Grandma to the unhoused residents of Camp Nenookaasi and she has a grandmother’s protective instinct. So as a fall storm hinted at another harsh Minnesota winter, she showed us around the camp addition she hopes will keep everyone healthy.

"It has a wood-burning stove that vents out, so it doesn't get smoky or anything it's safe to live in throughout the winter," Mason said.

Eight to 10 people can sleep in each yurt. They’re made simply using wood slats, rope, tarp and a barrel stove.

And once they’re built, dismantling them is also pretty easy.

Each yurt costs about $500 to build. Friends of the camp raised money and bought materials for the first seven that went up last weekend.

They’re hoping to raise enough to build 13 more to fit the entire camp population — about 170 people — in a survivable spot where help can find them. The group has launched a GoFundMe to help collect donations.

"You know, water, a warm place for them to live somewhere, to be safe while outreach workers come and meet with them," Mason said.

MnDOT forced the people in the camp to move from another location back in August, but Mason is hoping her rules about cleanliness and non-violence help them get a little more leeway from the city, even as they build bigger structures at the site.

We asked a city spokesperson and they make no guarantees.