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Minneapolis city council members, Mayor Jacob Frey clash on homelessness response after fire at encampment

Minneapolis city leaders clash over homelessness response
Minneapolis city leaders clash over homelessness response 02:33

MINNEAPOLIS — Some Minneapolis City Council members along with advocacy groups detailed their efforts to respond to homelessness throughout the city, a day after a fire ripped through a site in south Minneapolis.

The fire broke out around noon on Thursday on the 1100 block of East 28th Street, near Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Midtown Global Market. Though the fire was extinguished after 30 minutes, the site was completely leveled, leaving roughly 50 residents without a place to stay.

MORE: Video shows flames ripping through Minneapolis encampment: "The camp is gone"

Jason Chavez, who represents Ward 9, outlined three ordinances that he, along with council members Aisha Chughtai and Aurin Chowdury, are looking to pass.

The first establishes a safe outdoor space ordinance, modeled after a program in Denver. It would establish temporary spaces that can provide permanent housing to residents. The sites would be run by nonprofits, and would have safety and security on site, Chavez explained.

"This isn't legalizing encampments on sidewalks," he said. "This is a data-driven approach."

Chavez said that he's already heard of interest from nonprofits looking to help, including the Twin Cities Recovery Project.

The second ordinance would establish a humane encampment response process. The current approach is "throwing people away like garbage," Chavez said.

Additionally, Chavez said he'd like to pass encampment eviction reporting, which would detail how much money it costs to repeatedly evict residents from sites. 

Chughtai joined Chavez at the press conference, rebuking what she called Mayor Jacob Frey's "whac-a-mole approach" to addressing homelessness in the city.

"The status quo from the Frey administration to this crisis is not working," she said. "We are seeing a policy every level of government." 

The two said they will meet with Frey's administration to discuss their proposals. They are in the midst of reaching out to other council members and weren't clear on the number of supporters they have. 

Hours after the press conference, Frey held an impromptu one of his own, calling the encampments hotspots for sex and drug trafficking. He called out the council on a lack of a detailed plan for their proposals.

"You can't just put the word 'safe' in front of homeless encampments, and make it so," he said. 

"A big reason why these homeless encampments exist is quick and readily available access to fentanyl," he added. "Both the dealers have quick access because they know where to go, and the people that want fentanyl. Even those that aren't stying there, they know there's lots of fentanyl in homeless encampments. It's a market."

MORE NEWS: Minneapolis barber has provided haircuts to people experiencing homelessness for 18 years

Friday morning, Minneapolis city crews were filling the site with broken concrete blocks, a strategy that the city has previously used after clearing encampment sites.

"That is thousands of dollars that are being spent to drop rubble in a majority-people of color neighborhood," Chavez said, "instead of using that money to permanently house people."

Earlier this month, city crews evicted the residents of Camp Nenookaasi in south Minneapolis. It was the third time in four weeks the city cleared the migrating residents' camp. City leaders said the camp posed health and safety issues, while organizers, residents and supporters of the camp criticized the city for closing it without a plan

Camp organizers Christin Crabtree and Nicole Mason believe it is crucial to get people connected to resources. They noted that seven months ago, Camp Nenookaasi started with 236 residents, and now the number has dwindled to 50, in large part because residents were able to connect with resources and housing.

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"It's proven that this works, this is the most they've been able to find and get people off the streets," Mason said.

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