The Potluck

Minneapolis clears homeless encampments

By: - October 5, 2021 2:45 pm
homeless camp

A front-end loader cleared out a homeless encampment near Cedar Avenue and Interstate 94 Tuesday morning, leaving scattered belongings, from tennis shoes to a carrot.

A woman who said her name was Margaret stood by the street next to trash and tote bags full of belongings — hers and others’ — as front-end loaders and garbage trucks rumbled by, pushing what was left of her home into large metal garbage containers.

She’d been living near the Community Peace Gardens at 808 Cedar Ave. S. for almost a year. She’d been evicted from the same spot once before. That time, her friend put her up in a hotel for a few days before she returned to the same spot tucked under a bridge near Interstate 94. She said nobody noticed the half dozen tents until people got kicked out of another camp and joined them a few months ago.

She estimates about 20 people were living near the interstate when they were cleared out Tuesday morning along with another larger encampment with dozens of people at Cedar and Franklin Avenues. The city and state cleared out both encampments Tuesday morning, displacing dozens of people. 

“Once a year (we) go through the same damn thing,” Margaret said. 

The tents and furniture and people were almost all gone within hours after the operation began at 7 a.m. A few piles of belongings were piled up here and there, and used needles still littered the grass, but the tents were gone and ground was freshly scraped by a front loader. Piles of bikes were stacked up in garbage containers and carted away.

Months ago, tents first sprang up on the median near the Homeward Bound Shelter and quickly multiplied, moving under the light rail underpass east to Cedar Avenue, then across the street to the Volunteers of America property and north to Scooterville at 20th Street and Cedar Avenue. 

Neighbors complained to the city and county because the encampment was mere feet from passing cars, and between two alternative high schools, prompting one to end in-person schooling and go online. They said people openly sold and consumed drugs and walked into traffic. 

When leaders of the nearby schools raised their concerns, they said, city officials would send them to the county — telling them the 10-foot median of Franklin Avenue is county property. The county would send them to the city.

The Metro Urban Indian Directors — a coalition of Native-run nonprofits — pushed for federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars to be used to help clear the encampment. In early September, the logjam broke and the city agreed to release federal dollars to Native-led nonprofits to move people from the encampment into shelter.  

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center was awarded a contract to move women into hotels. City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said MIWRC signed up 30 women for the Hotel to Homes Project. 

Margaret, the woman at the site Tuesday, said she was told she couldn’t be in the program because she’s not single. 

Randy Flowers and a crew from St. Stephen’s Street Outreach was helping the displaced people find places to go. 

“That’s all this is, is whack-a-mole,” he said. “It may not be here, but it’ll be somewhere else… it’s gonna pop up somewhere else.”

Angelique Beaumaster played Christian music from an orange speaker as she helped clean up the encampment near Cedar and Franklin. Beaumaster said her daughter is often in the encampment, and she helped people relocate for days before that.

She was upset because she said some city workers were disrespectful earlier that morning.

“Next time,” she said, “we’re not leaving.”  

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.