Melanie Groves stood with tears in her eyes Tuesday as she and others voiced their opposition to the closure of a longstanding homeless encampment in northeast Minneapolis.
"We're out here because we have issues; we struggle, we need support, and we're not getting that," Groves said. "With the money that they spend on these evictions, where there's a massive police force coming in for some people who are homeless, freezing outside in a tent, do you really need to spend the money on that?"
Groves, who recently got into housing herself, was one of about a dozen advocates and camp residents who spoke at a news conference at the camp entrance near the Quarry shopping center on New Brighton Boulevard. Some speakers said they hope the city gives them more time to move.
The city posted signs at the camp Dec. 21 saying residents need to leave by Wednesday — a seven-day window. The camp has been around about a year and a half, with as many as 25 occupants at times, according to Erin Wixsten, an analyst for Hennepin County's Office to End Homelessness. The camp is on city-owned land, with about a dozen tents set up, a portable toilet and a food donation drop-off area.
The city decided to close the Quarry camp because of fires, winter weather and minors living at the site, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said in an email.
"Homeless encampments are illegal in Minneapolis and pose significant safety risks to unsheltered people and surrounding communities," McKenzie said.
The closure is expected to begin at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, to give outreach workers time to help connect residents with shelter, McKenzie said.
Other encampment residents were more blunt than Groves about their displeasure and said they feel unsafe having to move their belongings in the cold weather.
"It feels like we got a death sentence for our Christmas gift," said a man named Nate who declined to give his last name.
Groups supporting encampment residents called on social media for people to show up at 6 a.m. Wednesday in order to "defend your neighbors."
According to McKenzie, the city waited to close the camp until this week to ensure shelter beds were available. All the camp's residents will be guaranteed indoor shelter space if they want it, she said.
The Quarry camp's closure comes two days after Rescue Now Services opened a new 50-bed shelter in a church in northeast Minneapolis. That availability factored into the closure, McKenzie said.
But residents said they think demolishing the camp takes away what has been a stable base for them to keep their belongings, unlike some shelters that require people to take everything with them during the day. An estimated 2,000 people stay in in shelters each night in Hennepin County, Wixsten said.
City and county representatives said they have offered the 10 residents help with finding shelter options and other resources before the closure.
"I've seen a lot of people leave in bad ways, and I've seen a lot of people leave in good ways rebuilding their lives in apartments and homes and jobs," said one resident named Charles, who has lived at the camp for a year and a half. "If they didn't have this camp to do that from they wouldn't have had a stable place to work from."
Simeon Aitken, a member of the local group Communities United Against Police Brutality, said her group estimates a larger number of people live at the camp, with between 15 and 25 living there over the course of December.
"This doesn't solve the problem by evicting people from a tent from a community where they have some sort of support and have some sort of sense of safety," Groves said.
Wixsten said the county plans ahead so camp residents don't lose touch with service providers after a camp is cleared.
"I can see and understand why that would be a concern, and it's our role, I think, as practitioners of health and human services to plan for, 'What are you going to do if this camp gets closed? Where are you going to go so that services don't get interrupted,' " Wixsten said.
Wixsten said all of the camp residents are in the process of getting into permanent housing.
Several activists at the news conference disagreed with the city's assessment that encampments are dangerous and unsafe for its residents.
"People form encampments for mutual support, for more privacy, for a way to be safe," said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality. "For this government to come and the police consistently routing people out of these campaigns is outrageous."