Several community members and activists packed a public meeting Tuesday and demanded that Minneapolis officials adopt a transparent community-based policy on homelessness, and provide services at homeless encampments such as hand washing stations and mental health and drug prevention services.
More than a hundred attendees showed up at the Phillips Community Center to address homelessness in Minneapolis in the wake of the recent closure of a homeless encampment known as the “Wall of Forgotten Natives.” Impassioned attendees shouted out questions and interrupted city officials who were supposed to talk first, causing officials to flip the agenda’s order and give the floor to attendees.
“For the past five years, we have seen the result of evictions and lack of any policy. It leads to more encampments,” said Nicole Mason, an organizer with the American Indian Movement, a grassroots advocacy group.
State troopers cleared more than 140 people, most of them Indigenous, from the encampment along Hiawatha Avenue near Cedar Avenue three weeks ago; the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) had issued vacate notices. The encampment formed in 2018 on land owned by MnDOT.
Tuesday’s meeting was organized by activists, Minneapolis City Council Member Jason Chavez, whose ward includes the encampment, and residents of Little Earth, a Native American community in the East Phillips neighborhood.
“It [‘Tuesday’s meeting] is not an opportunity for political grandstanding and soap boxes—we want real answers,” Christin Crabtree, a community organizer, said in an interview with the Sahan Journal.
The meeting started with a ceremony honoring Daniel “Dan Dan” Robertson who died at the Wall of Forgotten Natives on August 23. Mason said in her speech that Robertson’s cause of death was a seizure due to heat.
Some attendees said the city should invest in overdose prevention centers across the city, and focus on strategies that prevent trauma and harm. A couple attendees also encouraged others to hold city council members accountable in the upcoming November election. All 13 city council seats are up for election this fall.
Mike Forcia, 60, chairman of the American Indian Movement, said the city should give East Phillips Park, located at the Wall of Forgotten Natives, to Indigenous people. His organization distributed red flyers with more information about the proposal.
“A village of tiny homes will be built on the land in order to house Indigenous folks currently experiencing homelessness, and culturally-specific addiction treatment resources will be provided on-site,” read the flier.
City officials did not respond to Forcia’s suggestion.
Chavez and Council Members Robin Wonsley, Elliott Payne, Aisha Chughtai and Jeremiah Ellison observed the clearing at the Wall of Forgotten Natives on August 24. Other elected officials were also present. Shortly afterwards, Chavez tweeted that he would host an emergency housing meeting.
“Resources and priorities need to shift so we can support our unhoused neighbors and address homelessness,” read his tweet.
Payne and Wonsley, who attended Tuesday’s forum, highlighted next steps at the end of the meeting.
Payne said he would present an agenda and a set of questions about homelessness to Enrique Velázquez, who heads the city department in charge of closing encampments. Mayor Jacob Frey recently nominated Velázquez to serve as the city’s director of regulatory services.
Payne also said he will work on creating a “medication assistance therapy center” in Minneapolis.
Wonsley said Tuesday that attendees should continue raising demands as city leaders hold meetings about the city’s budget. She previously wrote in a newsletter to her constituents that she and other colleagues have advocated for a “humane and evidence-based policy” to address homelessness.
Minneapolis city staff presented findings to the City Council in April about the city’s response to homelessness. Closing an encampment can cost between $40,000 to $265,000 depending on its conditions, according to the staff presentation.
Joe Vital, a community organizer who facilitated the forum, told attendees at Tuesday’s meeting that they would be notified of future meetings about the issue, and would receive updates from elected officials.
“I think that we are at a breaking point in our city right now where we can either continue to do what we’ve always been doing, which we know isn’t working, or we can be bold, innovative, and do things differently,” Chavez said in an interview with the Sahan Journal after the meeting. “And I think that’s why people were here today.”