With cold weather setting in, the Minneapolis City Council on Friday passed an emergency measure that's intended to speed up the relocation of the people living at the Hiawatha homeless encampment.
"We have human beings living in flimsy tents," said Council Member Abdi Warsame, who brought the motion. "It's a public health hazard. There have already been deaths."
When some council members favored delaying the motion until the next meeting, Warsame said: "God forbid we don't get this done and people are injured or hurt, or even die because of the cold, it's going to be on us. It's going to be on this council that has made so much promises to the people at the camp."
Other council members expressed concern that they were moving too quickly and making decisions with limited information.
"I'm frustrated by that. Very frustrated," said Council President Lisa Bender. "This is not how we should be operating. This is not how we should be running the city of Minneapolis."
The emergency declaration will allow the city to bypass its typical procurement rules to hasten preparations of the relocation site. The Red Lake Nation-owned property at 2105-2109 Cedar Av. S. could be ready in early December.
Before it offered the land to the city, the Red Lake Nation was planning to develop a six-story affordable housing complex at the site. There are currently contractors already involved with the Red Lake Nation housing project, and the city hopes to work with those contractors, according to David Frank, the city's Community Planning and Economic Development director.
The cost of preparing the site and setting up trailers, fencing and lighting will be $1.5 million, lower than the $2 million to $2.5 million that city staff have previously cited, Frank said. That doesn't include the costs associated with operating the site and providing social services.
Bender said she doesn't support spending $1.5 million on trailers because she did not receive "enough information from anyone to support that today."
"My concern is that by taking each of these incremental urgent decisions, we are giving our staff the impression that we support spending that much money on that particular solution with no operator identified," Bender said. "I don't support that."
She said she's being placed in a difficult position to "make bad votes with no information."
Frank said he will present the relocation budget at the council's Ways & Means Committee on Oct. 16.
He said the city wants to use trailers because of possible contamination on the site. The trailers are elevated off the ground, and a fan can ventilate the air underneath them, he said.
"That's a necessary thing given that the site will still have underground environmental issues at the time that it's used for the navigation center," Frank told the council.
To streamline the decisionmaking process about the homeless encampment relocation, the council also formed a working group composed of council members, the mayor's office and other city leaders. The council has also invited Hennepin County to have an "active participation" in the working group.
"This is not like any other large issue that we have faced in the city, and we are flailing due to lack of communication and holding onto information for fear of criticism," said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who amended Warsame's motion to include the creation of the working group. "That's causing frustration."
Goodman encouraged council members to "get our act together, everybody, and try to remember that we are working on behalf of people who are homeless, facing a rainstorm, entering winter."
In an interview after the meeting, Frank said: "We're going faster than we typically do. What we are hearing from the mayor and the council is to have a navigation center open as soon as we can. That means doing things differently."