Minneapolis officials are recommending the relocation of a homeless encampment to a vacant lot, despite the opposition of two nearby charter schools and community members. But it’s only the first step in an already contentious decision on where to house dozens of people, many of them with substance abuse and mental health problems.
The City Council took a preliminary vote Thursday that endorsed the city-owned lot at 2600 Minnehaha Av. as the preferred site for a “navigation center,” where people being moved from the Hiawatha Avenue camp could live and receive services.
But after the council’s 7-5 vote, two council members said they could change their minds before another council vote Friday.
David Frank, the city’s community planning and economic development director, told council members Thursday that they planned to start setting up trailers and operating the site within one to two months. The city anticipated spending up to $2.5 million constructing and operating the temporary housing for a year, though that doesn’t include providing social services.
But during three hours of contentious discussion, several council members raised concerns about the site’s proximity to the two charter schools. School leaders, teachers and parents told the council they were concerned for the safety of students, who might be exposed to drug activity and crime.
“Please don’t relocate this next to the school,” Council Member Alondra Cano said.
“I’m very much troubled by the 2600 Minnehaha site because of the children,” Council Member Abdi Warsame said.
Cano made a motion to direct staff to plan for relocating the homeless camp to the former Roof Depot property, but then Council President Lisa Bender amended the motion to change it to 2600 Minnehaha Av.
Parents of students at the Aurora Charter School interrupted the council meeting when the voting began.
“You can sleep at night knowing that your kids are touching syringes?” one woman told the council members. “This is serious.”
Council Member Andrea Jenkins said speakers should not be “dehumanizing this camp.”
Directors of American Indian nonprofit groups and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said they favor the other site under consideration: a city-owned parking lot next to the former Roof Depot warehouse.
But that property has residual pollution and legal restrictions on its use that make it less desirable than the 2600 Minnehaha site, according to city officials. Because the city used $6.8 million in utility fees to buy the property, it would be required to reimburse the money to the water fund.
“That needs to be repaid right away,” Mark Ruff, the city’s chief financial officer, told the City Council.
But the council directed the city attorney to research whether it could get around that requirement.