Homeless encampments have popped up and come down repeatedly in the last nine months at sites around the Twin Cities. But at the Near North encampment in Minneapolis, a strong community bond and help from neighborhood volunteers may lead to something more lasting.
With the city delaying its eviction notice indefinitely, organizers at the encampment think they're on a path to permanent housing for all its residents.
"The aim is to have enough time and access to resources to purchase a building that the residents here can have a hand in creating," said Mandla Xaba, a resident of the Near North encampment.
About 25 people make up the encampment's community at 205 N. Girard Av. The shelter system doesn't work for them, Xaba said, and they find this environment a better fit.
Local volunteers provide food, tools and other items. One organization dedicated to helping the community, Minneapolis Northside Mutual Aid, has raised more than $38,000 online.
Encampment residents and volunteers collaborated to fight the city's recent eviction orders. Erik Hansen, the director of Community Planning and Economic Development for Minneapolis, said one of the main reasons was environmental risks in the area.
The encampment was originally across the street from its current site. A city report says the original site was once home to a petroleum company, with chemicals from its storage tanks found in the soil.
That's what forced residents to move. The new site has better but not ideal environmental conditions, but Hansen said the city decided to withdraw an imminent eviction notice last week in order to provide more time for alternatives.
"We're going to let people work through the services that they're trying to connect to and find housing," Hansen said. "It doesn't mean we want them there forever because the environmental conditions are still present, but we want to work with those that are living in the tents to find a more permanent solution."
There is no new deadline, Hansen said, and no plans to add one.
Daylon Prochaska, who has been organizing with encampments since last summer, said this one stands because of the strength of the relationships its residents built. It's a model for encampments going forward, Prochaska said.
"We're very interested in trying to expand into supporting the rest of the unhoused community throughout Minneapolis," Prochaska said. "The goal here is to have something that's more sustainable and continue over the next couple of years to support community in Minneapolis in a way that hasn't quite been established."
Ideas are being discussed for permanent housing options, from a Habitat for Humanity-type building project to rehabbing a property.
At a group meeting last Thursday afternoon, encampment residents expressed pride in each other for sticking together and making it this far.
"This is the right state, the right time to make this work," Xaba said. "I would love to see this be a shining example of what can be done when people put their heads together, negotiate in good faith and put people's dignity, humanity first. You don't lose money doing that — invest in people, you get returns."
Peter Warren • 612-673-1713