Early Tuesday morning, residents of a tent city in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood wondered whether the city would follow through with their scheduled eviction. A trickle of masked protesters in black kept watch for city vehicles.
At about 10 a.m., the signs of an imminent sweep materialized: regulatory services trucks hauling skid steers, county and city street outreach staff, police. Hamoudi Sabri, the developer who owns the land on which the encampment was established, pulled up in his car and talked with Saray Garnett-Hochuli, the city's director of regulatory services.
Protesters called for reinforcements. About 40 people formed a wall along N. 5th Street to defend the camp of just as many residents, some of whom quickly built a fire in a driveway leading into the camp.
Nikki Carlson, who works in the North Loop and regularly delivers propane tanks to the encampment, planted herself in front of a skid steer and told a pair of police officers that they would have to arrest her to get her to move. Half a dozen protesters surrounded the loader as it tried to back up.
The driver told the residents he empathized but had to do his job.
"If you really stood up for what you're saying, you wouldn't be doing this," Andy, a leader among the camp's residents, responded. He declined to give his last name. "Maybe you don't understand because you've never been homeless, but this is our home. How would you feel if someone came to your house and decided they were going to bulldoze everything you have?"
City staff pulled back after a standoff lasting an hour and a half. While the North Loop encampment rebuffed eviction Tuesday, it's unclear when the city would try again to enforce its no-trespass order.
Sabri previously fought with the city to keep the North Loop encampment open as new residents moved in from other recent evictions. But after a woman fatally overdosed about two weeks ago, he decided to work with Garnett-Hochuli to close the camp at the urging of neighbors.
The two continued to quarrel about the fate of the encampment. During a North Loop Neighborhood Association meeting on Jan. 12, Garnett-Hochuli told attendees that the city could sue Sabri if he didn't comply with its notice to vacate the camp by Tuesday.
"Now folks may say this is heavy-handed, but I want you to understand that we actually are enforcing with heart," she said, adding that outreach staff have been working with camp residents once or twice a week since September, offering HIV treatment, COVID testing and drug assessments that can expedite moving into long-term housing.
"I'm considering, right now, changing my mind to shut down," Sabri said, stepping out of the audience gathered in the Colonial Warehouse. "I'm not scared of the city. I did not do it fearing the city is going to sue."
He criticized city staff for not having found a permanent solution for homelessness, suggesting they roll up their sleeves and start getting things done.
"We have over 30 people on a regular basis just meeting about it, and then we have a fleet of people working on this. We are working on this because this is not acceptable, and we all know it!" Garnett-Hochuli shouted back. "It is not acceptable to have a city that accepts encampments! That is not how we are going to have a city."
Members of the neighborhood association asked whether the encampment has brought more crime to the North Loop since it was established last August.
Minneapolis Police Lt. Mark Klukow said the department's pre-encampment and post-encampment analysis of 911 reports in the area, completed in mid-December, shows no evidence that violence and property crimes increased, and no direct correlation between encampment residents and crimes under investigation.
"The true concern of the residents of the North Loop is that people deserve better than sleeping outdoors in tents," said Council Member Michael Rainville, whose Third Ward boundary falls a block away from the encampment. "This is traditionally a county issue. The county provides housing, the county provides social services and, to the county's credit, they have infused a lot of money in the system. It's just taking a while for that money to get into where it's needed to help people."
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, whose Fifth Ward includes the North Loop encampment, is part of a group of council members calling on the city to adopt standard practices around humanely dismantling camps.
When he, four other council members and dozens of protesters showed up to the planned eviction of an encampment in the Near North neighborhood last week, city workers stood down. However, a second encampment at Bloomington Avenue and 26th Street was cleared as planned last Thursday when no elected officials and few protesters intervened.
Ellison said the city should work harder to engage with encampment residents at least as much it engages with neighbors who are housed.
"I think that we should be working towards making sure that camps are obsolete before we close them," he said. "The truth is, the end result of doing closures when you have a large population living in the camp is that those folks just kind of drift down the street."