Seven homeless people who were forced to leave their tent camps earlier this year have sued Hennepin County and Minneapolis officials, seeking an end to any more clearing of encampments.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, argues that the evictions from city parks violated the constitutional rights of the homeless.
Justin Perl, litigation director for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, said the clearings contribute to a "cycle of homelessness" where people are forcibly relocated without having another place to go.
"This case is about being evicted from one's home," Perl said Monday. "Instead of following the law, these indiscriminate and constant encampment sweeps are done without notice, without providing shelter space, and without adequate and permanent housing in our community."
The suit names Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis, along with Mayor Jacob Frey, Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura and law enforcement leaders as defendants.
Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader said he was "disappointed" the "misguided" lawsuit was filed.
"Their action today incorrectly and unjustly asserts that plaintiffs have a constitutional right to exercise personal property and privacy interests on public lands to the exclusion of others' interests in the use of those same lands," especially in light of the health and safety threats posed by the encampments, he said in a statement.
Encampments cropped up in dozens of parks this summer after the Park Board allowed homeless people to stay in them overnight. When encampments at Powderhorn Park grew unruly and dangerous, the board imposed limits on their size and location.
The lawsuit argues that some campers were not given eviction notices; in one instance, they were given 72 hours to leave but officers and bulldozers showed up 24 hours later.
Patrick Berry, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who lived in Powderhorn, said he lost his tent, sleeping mattress and sleeping bag when he had to leave. He stayed in several places afterward, including a friend's couch, a van and in another tent. Now he has an apartment.
"I haven't gone to a shelter because they're not safe," Berry said. "I've heard a lot of stories about people getting exploited or assaulted. And the shelters are crowded. The risk from COVID is very real when you're sleeping in a large indoor area."
The complaint argues the clearings violated rights to privacy, due process and laws against unlawful seizures. The group is seeking a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against future clearings, as well as damages, Perl said.
Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers contested the allegations in the lawsuit in a statement. Camps were disbanded, she said, due to "documented crime, health, and safety incidents."
"In all cases, notice to vacate was provided to those living in the encampments, significant social service outreach took place, and transportation was offered to shelter locations," she said, adding that "no person's civil or human rights were violated."
Fourteen encampments remained in Minneapolis parks as of Oct. 15, according to the Park Board. Park officials said they expected all to be cleared in October.
In addition to Berry, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Henrietta Brown, Nadine Little, Dennis Barrow, Virginia Roy, Joel Westvig, Emmett Williams and homeless outreach nonprofit ZACAH.
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753