In search for solutions, Camp Nenookaasi in Minneapolis faces uncertain future | MinnPost

webnexttech | In search for solutions, Camp Nenookaasi in Minneapolis faces uncertain future | MinnPost

The longstanding Minneapolis encampment known as Camp Nenookaasi faces an uncertain future.Organizers of the camp in the East Phillips neighborhood know it’s not a permanent place for its residents but say it’s offered them stability and a sense of belonging that can’t easily be replicated.
But Minneapolis city officials, residents and some organizations in the area have raised safety and public health concerns.
Earlier this month, the city put out notices for the encampment to be cleared.
A week later, on Dec.
12, a resident was shot and killed in the encampment.
Still, the camp’s organizers and some advocates protested the planned eviction, and last week the city pushed the already once delayed eviction back.
A new eviction date has not been set.
The Indigenous Peoples Task Force is set to develop on the land where the encampment sits, and the camp’s organizers and residents know they will have to clear the area at some point.
But people at the camp say the encampment has kept them safer than the alternative options available.
And they want to stay there until the city has a better alternative.
“They’ve been able to stay in one spot.
We’ve had like 90 people since we started get housed,” said Nicole Mason, the camp’s organizer.
“Because they are in one central place where their housing workers and their health care workers can find them.” Many of the people at this encampment came from previous encampments that were around the city.
Camp Nenookaasi formed after the Minnesota Department of Transportation cleared an encampment in late August at the Wall of Forgotten Natives, which had around 130 residents, most of whom were Indigenous.
MinnPost photo by Ava KianNicole Mason, the camp organizer and Robby Conklin, a resident and helper at the camp, pose for a photo inside of one of the yurts.
A complex situation There are several factors that have complicated the city’s plans to clear the encampment.
Organizers say the approximately 150 people who are staying there have built a sense of community and don’t want to be separated.
Some residents say they have had bad past experiences with homeless shelters and prefer the camp.
In addition, many residents have a substance use disorder, and some advocates say the camp has been able to keep people safer than they would be alone, pointing to the fact that there have been no overdose deaths at the camp.
“What we’re asking (city officials) is for a building where everybody could stay together,” Mason said.
“It’ll be less likely for them to start encampments again.
If they’re separated throughout the city, they’re gonna come looking for each other, right?
But if they’re all in one building, they’re less likely to start another encampment.
And that’ll help with a lot of our homeless issue, especially in East Phillips.” Meanwhile, public safety concerns persist.
From August to December, there were about 90 calls for service about the encampment, mentioning drugs, guns and suspected overdoses, the Star Tribune reported.
In October, Mayor Jacob Frey quote tweeted a Star Tribune op-ed, writing that he opposes “unchecked” encampments because they are “easy targets for predatory fentanyl dealers and human traffickers.” The Metro Urban Indian Directors (MUID), an organization representing around 30 Indigenous groups around the Twin Cities, some of which are located near the camp, have expressed their concerns to the city.
Louise Matson, the vice chair of MUID and the executive director of the Division of Indian Work, said encampments are not an ideal form of shelter – and have been accepted as one for too long.
“Folks that work there and residents that live there started bringing it to our attention, the things that were happening at the camp.
Our intention is not to demonize or to blame camp residents or the camp organizers.
But the fact is, there are predators that are coming there because they know it’s vulnerable people because they know there are people struggling with addiction.
So the neighborhood is kind of inundated with those dealers,” Matson said.
Not enough housing In most instances of a camp eviction, the city is required to post an initial notice of trespass, notice to vacate and notice of the closure at least 72 hours before the closure of a camp.
The city says that before that notice is given, however, its Homelessness Response Team would have done various forms of outreach to connect people with resources and services like shelters.
Marissa Gunderson, a resident at the camp who serves as camp secretary, said outreach workers have come to the camp, “but they’re not consistent.
They build us up, they’ll show people places and all that stuff, and they’ll be like, ‘OK, well next week.
Well, next week.’” “It’s really frustrating,” she said.
“So many of us have been let down.
And then we get defeated and we just say, ‘fuck it,’ and we don’t want nothing to do with it.
So it’s hard to not get that way when they’re not consistent with their word.
We are getting housed but not as fast enough as everyone thinks we are,” Gunderson said.
MinnPost photo by Ava KianMarissa Gunderson, a resident at Camp Nenookaasi, sits in one of the camp’s yurts on Dec.
Gunderson is sober and has been the camp secretary for a couple of months.
Gunderson said in her experience, shelters don’t have enough space.
“I called the homeless shelter every morning and couldn’t get a bed.
For three weeks back in September.
You have to call every day at 10 a.m. every day to get your bed and reserve it.
Then you have to wait until you can check in, between like noon to four, you have to go there and check in to hold your bed,” Gunderson said.
And when she got in, it wasn’t a place that felt safe or welcoming to her.
“You only get a small little locker there and they tell you not to bring stuff because people steal at the shelters.
I stayed at the Harbor Light shelter for six hours, and I left,” she said.
Shelters often can’t accommodate people with substance use disorder.
In 2020, Hennepin County had around 642 unsheltered individuals.
That number decreased to 487 in 2022, and in 2023 it was 469.
There are at least 29 encampments in Minneapolis, according to the city’s dashboard.
The dashboard estimates 186 individuals at those encampments, as of Dec.
28, with the largest population at Camp Nenookaasi (around 100).
Mason said that in conversation with the city about the clearing, the mayor’s office said they would offer 90 shelter beds but couldn’t explain what that would look like.
“I don’t know if that means just a bed for the night and then they’re off to the streets all day again and not having any stable housing, and I told them that was absolutely unacceptable,” Mason said, adding that people are stable right now.
Impacts of a clearing During an encampment clearing, many times residents don’t have the time or ability to move their belongings.
Community aid organizations have also expressed that clearings waste their resources, since the items like tents get tossed.
In late August, when the Wall of Forgotten Natives encampment at East 22nd Street and Little Earth Trail was cleared, volunteers helped residents get their belongings out.
But many items were left behind.
Clearing an encampment can also disrupt any public health benefits provided by the encampment.
For example, having people in one area can help prevent overdoses, said Zach Johnson, a program director with Southside Harm Reduction Services.
“Anytime a group of people are allowed to be somewhere for a length of time and have some stability, the risk of overdose goes down.
Because people know where each other are, you can develop safety plans around overdose response.
You know where your Naloxone supply is gonna be, you just have a better track of everything.
And that’s true of all camps.
And the longer and more stabilized the camp is, the more true that becomes,” Johnson said.
Gunderson also thinks that if people were spread across the city, whether in shelters or staying outside but not in one space, there would be more overdose deaths.
“The scary part is now I’m using alone, hiding my addiction … and nobody knows I’m back there and I OD — and now I die,” she said.
“You’re not alone when you use (here).
There’s always somebody here.” Gunderson came to this encampment after being assaulted on the train by two men, and says Mason helped her get back on her feet.
She got sober at this encampment, and she feels the safest she has in a while.
“I haven’t felt safe in a long time.
But I have safety here.
I have my own tent, I have a lock on my tent.
Everyone here, we all have each other’s backs — 100%,” Gunderson said.
And she said the recent shooting didn’t make her feel less safe.
“That can happen anywhere.
It’s really sad and I hate that it happened here, but I don’t feel any less safe,” she said.
Southside Harm Reduction Services goes into various camps and brings in the supplies the people have expressed interest in.
They do that for individuals too, but have found it is easier to form and maintain relationships with people when they are in encampments rather than scattered across the city.
“Being able to find somebody and for them being able to find us and call us back at the same place, same time, day after day, you can just get a lot more work done,” Johnson said.
“They (people in the encampment) can consistently get their own needs met because they don’t have to worry about where they’re gonna be over and over and over every single night.” Those relationships have existed outside of Camp Nenookaasi, but Johnson says the formal relationship they’ve formed with leaders of the camp has allowed the organization to have a more sustained schedule at that encampment.
He says a clearing would change that.
“It would wipe everything out and we would go back to square one,” he said.
“That means the people are now in the wind.
We have to find them.
They have to find us, and then we have to reestablish everything.” At a September community meeting in East Phillips hosted by Minneapolis Ward 9 council member Jason Chavez, many people expressed the need for more services that can address housing and addiction together.
And while some neighbors are concerned about safety, they also say they care not only about themselves but also about the people living in the encampments.
One neighbor who identified herself as Indigenous spoke up at the meeting about her concerns with the encampments.
“My people are homeless.
It’s a bad situation, the drugs, the alcohol,” she said.
“I have people leave me their belongings in my property.
I have to call somebody to take it.
I’m scared.
My son … he is a prisoner in our house.
He should be able to ride his bike.
He should be able to ride his hoverboard.
We have to watch for needles.
I have to check for needles before I take my dog out.” She expressed she was scared to speak out about it out of fear of people thinking she doesn’t care for her people.
Sarah Jane Keaveny, a public health nurse who has done outreach with unhoused populations for several years, said that while those things might be happening at the camp, it doesn’t “justify” a closure.
“People will say, ‘Oh, there, you know, there’s sex trafficking that happens at the camp, so we should shut the camp down.
There’s drugs that are happening at the camp, so we should shut the camp down.’ The predatory behaviors around an encampment do not stop when an encampment is shut down.
And actually those predatory behaviors and the vulnerability are heightened after an encampment clearing because people are forced into more precarious situations and situations where they have to manage resources and ask for favors in different ways, and a lot of that comes down to survival,” she said.
“We can’t be in a space where we’re justifying harm because there’s harm happening.
That doesn’t feel humane.” MinnPost photo by Ava KianThe fencing outside of Camp Nenookaasi on the corner of 13th Avenue South and East 24th Street on Dec.
In November, MUID wrote a letter to the city demanding the camp be closed in a way that supports those living there.
“What we wanted is not sweeping the camp, but to work with individuals to get them where they need to be.
The reality is that some people still won’t go to housing.
Some people might need treatment,” Matson said.
Matson said many MUID members and other community members are fearful to speak up about the issues they’ve been seeing — out of fear of seeming like they are against their community.
“This is no way for anybody to live at all.
I have never seen Minneapolis like this before.
And to me it’s a crisis,” Matson said.
“It’s not like an us versus them or ‘people want to close the camp against the encampment.’ It’s more like, we can do better, right?
Like, we can do better for our people.
I don’t support the sweeping of the camps at all, I’ve seen that.” Advocates agree, too.
But until there is a better solution, many feel encampments, especially Camp Nenookaasi, has been beneficial to its residents.
What’s to come?
Chavez introduced the idea for the city to fund another Avivo Village, an indoor area composed of 100 tiny homes in the North Loop area.
In September, 12 city council members voted to take $1 million from the city’s contingency funds that could lead to additional state money for another such village near the Wall of Forgotten Natives.
The city has not released its plan yet.
Mason and residents of the camp know their time there is limited because the land is going to be developed.
But they don’t want another sweep without the resources and structure of what they’ve created at this camp.
“I’m not willing to accept scraps for the people anymore.
Or any Band-Aid that’s not gonna help with the homeless problem here,” Mason said.
Matson with MUID thinks that an option of hotel rooms might be more feasible in the meantime.
But camp residents say they want to be in community, which is more difficult to have in apartments or hotels.
“I understand people want to be together.
But this is like Minnesota, in the winter, and then … everything that’s going on in the neighborhood.
So what outweighs, you know, this feeling of wanting to be together and community or it’s subzero weather and an unsafe neighborhood?” Matson asked.
“It’s a tough choice.” Helix Health & Housing Services connected 73 people at the encampment with housing options, and another 14 people are scheduled to move into housing soon, through a contract with the city, a city spokesperson wrote in an email.
The organization offers housing, mental health services, and substance use treatment.
Mason has seen people who got housing through Helix visit the camp to see community members.
She has fears that people might be without their community.
Gunderson, who has been at the camp since August, feels that leaving the encampment without a promise of the community having space to gather is risky.
“(The camp) gives us a place to at least have human connection.
If we’re isolated in our apartments alone, we don’t have that.
That’s why they come back here,” she said.
“A lot of people are scared to move out because then they’re on their own again.
A lot of us don’t want to be alone.”

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