Minneapolis homeless sue Mayor Frey for clearing encampments amid COVID-19

Seven homeless people in Minneapolis are suing the city and Mayor Jacob Frey for allegedly clearing encampments without notice amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Minneapolis introduced a homelessness initiative in June allowing those suffering from homelessness to live in public parks “temporarily until dignified alternative spaces can be found” due to a lack of public housing and the “growing number of people experiencing homelessness,” according to the city’s website. 

“We just filed a lawsuit with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid to stop Hennepin County and Minneapolis officials from destroying encampments and evicting unhoused people from their homes there,” the Minnesota ACLU wrote in a Monday evening tweet.

A second tweet added that with “little or no notice, law enforcement is bulldozing people’s shelters, throwing away personal belongings including keepsakes, identification cards, clothing and blankets” and called the city’s actions “cruel” and “unlawful.” 

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The Minneapolis Parks and Recreations Board (MPRB) contested the lawsuit in a statement to Fox News, and Frey’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The MPRB has been humane, lawful and measured in its responses to temporary encampments in the parks,” the Board said. “Before any attempt to remove persons from an encampment, individuals experiencing homelessness in a park or those persons facilitating an encampment were given notice and offers of assistance to find proper and suitable shelter. No person’s civil or human rights were violated.”

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The ACLU and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, on behalf of seven homeless individuals named in the lawsuit, are accusing the city of conducting “sweeps” of homeless encampments, forcing individuals to seek shelter in “crowded shelter spaces,” increasing plaintiffs’ risk of contracting COVID-19.  

Powderhorn Park, Minneapolis (Courtesy KMSP)

Powderhorn Park, Minneapolis (Courtesy KMSP)

The suit accuses police and city employees of unlawfully seizing or destroying “personal property without adequate notice, just compensation or other requisite procedural due process protections.” It also details individual accounts of confrontations with city officials or police, bulldozers sweeping up individuals’ belongings without notice and being turned away from other shelters due to overcrowding.

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The MPRB said “many” of the allegations in the lawsuit “are simply not true.”

“This summer, several park encampments were removed due to size; documented crime, health, and safety incidents; or location in a school safety zone. In all cases, notice to vacate was provided to those living in the encampments, significant social service outreach took place, and transportation was offered to shelter locations,” the Board said.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz in March signed an emergency executive order barring officials from clearing homeless encampments in April but changed pace in May when he clarified that local governments could “restrict, limit, or close encampment spaces” if they have provided sufficient public shelters or housing in line with guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Julia Rainey, left and her mother Tonya Rainey live next to each other in a tent compound.  (Photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Julia Rainey, left and her mother Tonya Rainey live next to each other in a tent compound.  (Photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Governments could also restrict or close encampments that “reached a size or status that is a documented threat to the health, safety or security of residents.”

The MPRB said it has “been supporting unsheltered people in parks since spring 2020 as required by Governor Tim Walz’s executive orders related to COVID and people experiencing homelessness’ and has “implementing those Board directives consistent with Governor Walz’s executive orders.”

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Walz announced a $100 million housing assistance program in July to prevent homelessness and evictions as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Hennepin County officials approved a $22 million plan in early October to spend $22 million on six new homeless shelters as part of the county’s $220 million federal funding package; the County Board is expected to vote on the initiative within the next couple of weeks, according to the Star Tribune.