Public works employees closed a small but densely packed homeless encampment in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis on Thursday morning.
The camp of fewer than 20 residents stretched down the west sidewalk of Bloomington Avenue between E. 26th and 27th streets, in front of businesses and residences, and across the street from a daycare. Several tents jammed the driveway of Abraham Auto.
"This encampment is partially on private property, and the business owners have reached out to the city for assistance in moving the tents," said city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.
No elected officials made an appearance, as five City Council members had earlier in the week to defend residents when an encampment in the Near North neighborhood was slated for eviction.
McKenzie said city, county and nonprofit street outreach workers have visited the Bloomington Avenue encampment since August to connect residents to shelter and health care as well as distribute snacks and hygiene products. City crews regularly collected trash.
Life in the encampment is grueling, said Fluffy Littlewolf, who has lived along Bloomington Avenue since last summer. There are no easily accessible showers and bathrooms in the area, so residents have to relieve themselves in alleys. As winter set in and people battened down their tents, drug use became a condition of staying awake, staying alive and rebuffing depression, she said.
Littlewolf added that those who have warrants are especially reluctant to seek shelter due to fear of being booked and forced to go through withdrawal in detention.
She has tried staying at Avivo, but prefers Homeward Bound, a culturally specific shelter for Native Americans, where staff get to know residents and check on them regularly. She said she would call her caseworker and try to return to Homeward Bound.
"All we're doing is trying to survive," she said. "None of us like it. We adapt to it. We get anxiety, depression. I have PTSD. I'm just trying to get through another day."
Encampment residents started packing up their belongings around 8 a.m. on Thursday. The city's homeless response coordinators, St. Stephen's Human Services street outreach and a representative from Hennepin County Healthcare for the Homeless distributed plastic bags and offered help transitioning to emergency shelter. Mike Goze, CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation, drove a transport van. Volunteers from the neighborhood picked needles off the street. Public works employees scooped tents and piles of discarded food and clothes into a dump truck.
Jenny Bjorgo, a Homeward Bound case manager who lives a few blocks away from the encampment, walked down to help.
"People come from the suburbs to buy drugs here," she said. "Illicit operations happen all over and they're not addressing that the proper way. They should get safe consumption sites with medical support. Other countries that have done it have had astounding numbers, where people go into [medical-assisted treatment] with Suboxone, methadone. … That's what it boils down to."
The sidewalk was cleared by noon. No one lingered afterward.
E-mails show former Council Member Alondra Cano was especially concerned about the growing encampment at 26th and Bloomington last summer, when the Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association requested police help remove tents that had spilled over onto a neighbor's front lawn.
Council Member Jason Chavez, who now represents the district and had showed up at the Near North encampment Tuesday, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
County spokeswoman Maria Baca said that on Wednesday morning, the day before the eviction, there were 76 shelter beds available in the Twin Cities while 25 more became available at night.
Baca said anyone wanting to reserve a bed in a shelter should call Adult Shelter Connect at 612-248-2350 as close to 10 a.m. — when the reservation system opens — as possible. Shelter advocates can help callers find a placement in one of 16 shelters for individuals, families and youth.
Spaces fill up throughout the day. From about 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., there is a break in the hotline as people check into shelters. Unclaimed spots then become available again.
Before Adult Shelter Connect was created to streamline entry into the Twin Cities' fragmented network of emergency shelters, people would have to stand in line outside the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, or show up at the lottery once a week at Simpson Housing Services to get into church shelters, said Steve Horsfield, Simpson's executive director .
"It is not a failsafe," he acknowledged. "It was a new front-end on a system that was still frankly under-resourced at times, so there have been times where people have been calling in and there haven't been beds available. … But the point is, it's certainly better than what it was."