It's disappointing that five Minneapolis City Council members — four of them just starting their first terms — decided to make objecting to the city's policy on homeless encampments one of their first acts on the job.
On Tuesday they gathered at a Near North camp to stop their own public works employees from clearing a homeless encampment of its remaining six to 12 people. The protest showed poor judgment and was counterproductive to finding safe housing solutions for those in need.
On Monday, Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah asked residents via social media to turn out on Tuesday morning in defense of the remaining campers. She recommended that Mayor Jacob Frey suspend all encampment evictions until they could be done humanely and only after all residents were housed. Newly elected members Jason Chavez, Aisha Chughtai and Elliott Payne joined Jeremiah Ellison, who won re-election in November, in heeding her call.
"To destroy peoples' homes with nothing more than a list of possibly underfunded and overwhelmed resources in the midst of a Coronavirus surge while temperatures are routinely below zero is inhumane," Wonsley Worlobah wrote.
But the city and Hennepin County had been working with people at the camp for weeks to help them find housing. Notices were posted in advance that said the site would be cleared. What's inhumane is allowing people to illegally live outdoors in unsanitary and often unsafe conditions — especially during a frigid Minnesota winter.
We look forward to hearing how the new council members, and Ellison, will translate their activism into policies and services that will provide long-term support for the city's homeless population.
In an e-mail to an editorial writer, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said the city had been monitoring the encampment at North Girard and 2nd Avenues and that city, county and other teams have been "out there weekly for many months, helping connect residents to services." In the fall, the city and county did extensive outreach there resulting in connecting 28 households with services and bringing the numbers in the camp down from 28 people to eight in early December.
"…[D]ozens of shelter beds [are] available on a daily basis," McKenzie wrote. "Most are now open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, with case management, food service and storage options onsite."
The city's official position on homeless encampments is that they "represent a serious health and safety risk, particularly for those staying within the encampment." Outreach workers have been patient and have worked with campers on relocation plans. But they cannot allow the camps to stand indefinitely.
On Thursday, city public works employees cleared a Phillips neighborhood encampment along Bloomington Avenue between E. 26th and 27th streets. No council members showed up to oppose that action. Similar to the Near North site, campers were given notice and government and nonprofit workers had worked with them to help find other places to stay.
The holdouts are usually those who, for a variety of reasons, don't want to go to shelters or other types of housing that are safe, sanitary and legal. Public officials and outreach workers learned a few things from their experiences with earlier encampments. They've created more housing alternatives and are better at getting services to those in need.
For that, they deserve the support of all Minneapolis City Council members.