The threatened eviction of about 50 homeless people from a Bloomington hotel sparked a rally Sunday in which housing advocates called on elected leaders to "commit not to evict."
It worked. The guests were allowed to remain at the hotel, though it was unclear how long they will be able to continue to shelter there.
"Yes, we are celebrating a little bit of a victory today," said Naukeya White, who stays at the hotel, Extended Stay America. "Now we are going from the streets ... to parks and encampments to hotel rooms and we've been shuffled around like cattle. This is something that is unacceptable."
White, who has been homeless for three years, echoed others in a parking lot outside the hotel Sunday who demanded that Gov. Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and other officials find a housing solution, especially with winter looming.
"You have the power to change this pandemic of homelessness," she said.
Hennepin County officials announced at the beginning of October that they were looking to purchase Extended Stay for $13.3 million to covert it into 100 units of protective housing for people experiencing homelessness at high risk of COVID-19.
Last week, however, they pulled back on the decision, citing timing constraints with federal CARES Act funding, which has a deadline of Dec. 1. In a statement, the county said that the money could be "more impactful if used in other ways to protect and support residents during the pandemic."
In a statement Sunday, Extended Stay officials said: "There are no actions currently planned for our Extended Stay America Bloomington guests, and no evictions are taking place today. We will continue to work with involved parties to resolve the issue."
Heather Worthington, interim Bloomington community development director, said late Friday that city staffers were told by hotel managers that they "planned to remove" the homeless on Sunday.
A lawyer representing some of the homeless at the hotel asked city officials not to assist in the eviction process because they had tenant protections, Worthington said, and "instead requested that the city refer hotel management to civil district court for required proceedings."
Worthington said that Bloomington officials were told by hotel managers that there were no plans for evictions and that staffers would re-evaluate plans Monday.
The extension was a brief reprieve for dozens of homeless people who have been staying at the hotel.
Brian Wallace, 50, said that sleeping in a bed was better than on mats. He was staying at the Sheraton Minneapolis Midtown Hotel before tenants were evicted in June, then moved to tents in Powderhorn and Logan parks in Minneapolis. He's been at Extended Stay for almost two weeks.
"For as long as it lasted, it's a good thing, but I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "Out of all the things I've been in, this is another task, another obstacle I got to get over. I don't know what's ahead, but I've got to have faith."
White said the homeless tenants were forming a union to advocate for solutions — their ultimate goal is to get Hennepin County to pay for their housing — and negotiate with the hotel.
ZACAH, a local nonprofit, has been paying for 35 rooms for the homeless on a weekly basis at Extended Stay, said Naheed Murad, who manages hotel program finances. Since June, she said, ZACAH has spent around $185,000 almost entirely on hotel accommodations, along with some rental assistance for people able to find affordable housing.
Though Hennepin County officials passed on buying the Extended Stay, the county has spent nearly $10 million on five sites to help the homeless. So far the county has spent $12 million on room rentals for 1,400 homeless people who needed to be tested for COVID-19 and isolated. Nearly all the funding comes from the $220 million funding package that Hennepin County got from the federal government for COVID-related expenses.
Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report.