Police arrived unexpectedly at a long-standing encampment in the Harrison neighborhood of Minneapolis at about 7 a.m. Thursday, taped off the surrounding streets for several blocks in every direction, oversaw the eviction of about 30 people and arrested three protesters.
Encampment defenders had been having breakfast at the Near North camp, located at 205 Girard Av. N., when police arrived.
Volunteer Benjamin Melançon said they anticipated the city would enforce no-trespassing orders posted at the encampment earlier this year but did not know when because the notices did not specify exact dates. He said police gave those present five minutes to leave or face arrest.
"There was no warning, zero warning," said Melançon, who questioned whether individuals sleeping on the far side of the camp from police heard their instructions.
The Near North camp sits on a vacant parcel of city land. It has seen several waves of campers over about two years. Hennepin County workers set up a temporary service station there last summer that successfully connected many residents to housing until only a handful remained. That intensive outreach was eventually discontinued, and the camp's population grew again.
Over the years, residents collected materials to build semi-permanent structures, gardened and raised chickens. The chickens were captured by Minneapolis Animal Care and Control.
An attempt to clear the camp in March 2021 resulted in a violent clash with five protesters arrested and five police officers suffering minor injuries.
"The site has long posed public safety and public health challenges and been used as a storage area for stolen goods," said city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie, referring to a stolen van that was found at the encampment last month.
Removed from the site were numerous tents, campers, sheds and recreation vehicles, according to a memo to city officials. There was also a rat infestation, and Animal Care and Control helped round up seven chickens.
McKenzie said the encampment was located near the site of a housing development that will begin construction next week: Currie Commons at 187 Humboldt Av. N. The project will feature 187 units for renters earning below 30% and up to 60% of area median income, including some reserved for people experiencing homelessness.
McKenzie added that the five-minute warning was meant for "the ones attempting to obstruct city staff," not people staying in the camp, who were allowed to have about 40 minutes.
The Star Tribune was not permitted to observe the eviction up close. Witnesses said storage and transportation assistance was not offered, and that the city's partner organizations —including harm reduction outreach workers who visited the site previously — were not present on Thursday.
Encampment resident Paul Meringdol thought the five-minute warning applied to him, and had only enough time to collect what would fit in a red wheelbarrow. He said he had to leave behind a flatbed truck with more items, and was told it would be towed to an impound lot.
"How'd you like to look at that after almost 50 years of life, and you don't got nothing because they're about to either crush your stuff or throw it away," said Meringdol, looking down at the wheelbarrow.
Meringdol, who became homeless after struggling with a drug addiction, had just been evicted from another encampment in the Phillips neighborhood about a week ago. He said he was keeping calm as he considered next steps because "what do you get out of being irate?"
As city workers continued to clear the site, the recently evicted lingered by the side of the street with piles of their belongings.
Hennepin County emergency shelters open at 10 a.m.
One family of three, including a middle schooler, focused on getting the child to school breakfast on time. The mother, Ashley — who declined to provide her last name — said her partner had just purchased fresh groceries the night before, but that those items were now lost.
"They could have gave us like an hour, at least an hour. So it felt very abrupt. You did not have time for things, like they were threatening to arrest me if I kept grabbing things," she said. "I'm like, this is our food. Like, I need our blankets. I need this. I need that, you know."
Also on Thursday, a person was removed from a small encampment adjacent to 205 N. Girard, and three people were removed from a third encampment on Van White Boulevard, according to an email that Regulatory Services Director Saray Garnett-Hochuli sent Mayor Jacob Frey.