Two Minneapolis charter school leaders don’t want homeless people relocated to a vacant lot next door, setting up a political showdown as city officials scramble to clear a growing encampment along Hiawatha and Cedar avenues.
The leaders of Aurora Charter School and Lincoln International High School have written to Mayor Jacob Frey to say they’re concerned that relocating the camp residents to a city-owned property at 2600 Minnehaha Av. would expose students to drug use and crime.
Frey has said the city is in the final stages of finding a location to temporarily house dozens of people now living in tents before cold weather sets in. Where to relocate the camp is already dividing elected officials.
“Our coalition’s work must be driven by compassion and a collective recognition that people experiencing homelessness should not be marginalized,” Frey said in a statement Tuesday. “While there are no perfect solutions, the site at 2600 Minnehaha is a viable option for our navigation center — and we shouldn’t be taking any viable options off the table.”
The vacant lot and a city-owned former warehouse are the two sites under consideration. But the director of Aurora Charter School wrote the mayor to say the school “vehemently opposes the vacant lot at 2600 Minnehaha Avenue as an option for the relocation.”
In the letter, dated Monday, Matt Cisewski wrote that the relocation of the Hiawatha camp will affect the safety and health of more than 400 students. As the camp’s population ballooned over the summer, he wrote, a dozen syringes were found on school property.
“If the Hiawatha homelessness camp is relocated to 2600 Minnehaha Avenue,” he wrote, “my concern is that 411 scholars would have increased stress levels by being exposed to drug use and other behaviors unbecoming of Minneapolis citizens on a daily basis while simply trying to enjoy recess, go for a walk with their class, or arriving at school, a place where they should feel safe.”
Also Tuesday, Manyi Tambe, director of Lincoln International High School, expressed his opposition in a letter to the mayor.
“We are very much worried by the level of insecurity that will be posed with the increase[d] homeless traffic and other unwanted trespassers in the school campus,” Tambe wrote. “We are more than frightened because Lincoln International High school operates [a] single campus building which is not fenced and will end up being another shelter during non-school hours.”
“My population is already vulnerable with hardships,” Tambe said in an interview. “I have students who have gone through a lot of trauma. They are all students who are struggling to fit into American community.”
Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon, whose ward includes the proposed site, said he takes school leaders’ concerns seriously. He nonetheless supports relocating residents to that site, which he said could be a “viable option for this urgent short-term need.”
“We want to make sure that it’s kept clean, it’s taken care of,” he said. “There could be security there. There could be daily, regular hourly walk-throughs. We will want to make sure that all the students are as protected and safe as they are now.”
Council Member Alondra Cano said she agrees with the schools.
“I oppose any effort to relocate the camp next to Aurora Charter School as per the wishes of the Latino families, students, and all of the school’s teachers and staff,” Cano said in an e-mail Tuesday.
Cano and Cisewski said they prefer that the city relocate the residents to the former Roof Depot building, on a 7-acre property owned by the city on the west side of Hiawatha Avenue.
“I am very supportive of welcoming the 250 families experiencing homelessness who are living at the camp to find a more warm, safe, and sustainable housing option on the former Roof Depot site,” Cano said.
City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde is scheduled to brief the City Council on Thursday about the city’s plan.
In an interview Monday, Frey said the city’s long-term goal is to find stable housing for the camp residents.
“Homelessness was an issue confronting our region, state and country before the encampment on Hiawatha, and it will continue to be an issue after people move from the site,” he said. “But we want to make sure from the very beginning that this response has been centered on a compassion, respect and the recognition of the dignity of everyone affected by homelessness.”