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'This Is All We Have': City, MnDOT Officials Clear Out St. Paul Homeless Camp

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- The City of St. Paul has cleared a patch of land where a group of homeless people has lived for the past seven months.

The encampment sits in the shadows of the Cathedral of St. Paul. City and county officials say they can no longer let the tent city stand, citing safety concerns for the people living there.

Reg Chapman has more on the move that forced some out with nowhere to go.

Movement inside the homeless encampment in St. Paul began shortly after sunrise Thursday. People who call it home were packing up all they own, preparing to move.

"St. Paul in coordination with our two agencies with MnDOT and Ramsey County have been out here servicing this community all summer," said Ricardo Cervantes, director of the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections. "It is no longer tenable for us to do that here. It is no longer safe for them to be here."

City officials say several fires at the camp have put lives at risk, including one two weeks ago that burned while our cameras were there.

"We're also concerned with the proximity of this camp to I-35," Cervantes said. "There has been debris thrown over the fence, putting drivers in danger."

St. Paul police officers and MnDOT crews arrived shortly after 10 a.m. to clear the site.

"Only talk, talk, talk, nothing, nothing, nothing," said Jorge, who has lived at the encampment for seven months.

He says he has received no help, only a letter telling him it was time to go.

"Only help from church, only Church and God," Jorge said.

Others rushed to break down tents and used garbage bags to collect their belonging.

"This is all we have and to kick us out of our homes -- that don't feel good," Jolene said.

Jolene says she was hoping to stay in her tent until she got the help she needs.

"I'm waiting on housing. My sister, she is pregnant," Jolene said. "This is all we have and you all are trying to take it away from us and I don't like that."

"Move them from a tent situation, which is unsafe, and get them into the process," Cervantes said of the City's goal.

St. Paul hopes by making people move they will apply for resources designed to keep them out of the cold. While they hope, Minneapolis homeless advocates are moving some to the larger Minneapolis encampment.

We saw two people who we met in St. Paul setting up camp in Minneapolis. Homeless advocates expect more to make the move across the river.

"We're committed to making room for as many people who are out here being displaced from this area to come into the Minneapolis Hiawatha encampment," said Lydia Marie, a homeless advocate.

The city of St. Paul opened up an overflow shelter that can house 64 people, but it was flooded with sewage Thursday morning. Officials say it should be cleaned and available later Thursday evening.

The city says it will continue to work with people to connect them with the resources needed to stay out of the cold.

Two weeks ago, WCCO cameras took you inside the Minneapolis homeless camp to see the struggles people there are facing.

Hennepin County recommends donating to county shelters, where the homeless can already get help. County officials say bringing food or supplies to the site only creates more of a safety risk.

Officials say they don't want to encourage people to stay at the camp when there is warm shelter and help available.


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