Danny Reinan, News Editor
Last week, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) made the unanimous decision to clear out a 12 tent homeless encampment in Peavey Field Park.
This is only one in a series of recent evictions by the MPRB. The MPRB sent a SWAT team to the scene of the park, claiming it was their “last resort” after attempting to facilitate a peaceful disbanding of the camp since Aug. 10. Five eviction defenders were arrested and two were pepper sprayed. Members of the Board aim to have all encampments cleared by the end of October.
In their decision to evict, the members of the MPRB cite concerns about the presence of the encampments re-traumatizing children in the community who have already undergone immense stress due to the pandemic and the Minneapolis uprising. Specifically, board members were concerned about the Peavey Park’s proximity to Hope Academy, a K-12 school that began classes on Sept. 2. “We need to begin healing as a city,” said Board Vice President LaTrisha Vetaw. “Cleaning up this park is needed for these kids and all kids in this community. Our children have been through a lot of trauma and they need a place to play.”
While the MPRB members see this eviction and others like it as positive and necessary steps forward for the Minneapolis community, many community members are deeply opposed to the evictions. This opposition is especially strong in light of MPRB’s insufficient plans for rehousing the people living in the encampments, as the only actions they have taken so far have been to refer people to organizations like St. Stephen’s, which are already at housing capacity.
Between the pandemic, the massive uptick in layoffs, the economic recession and the upheaval that has come with the Minneapolis uprising, the conditions in the Twin Cities make it difficult for unhoused people to secure basic necessities. Many shelters and other providers are stretched thin amidst these conditions, and the impending threat of Minnesota’s brutal winter looms over those who struggle with housing insecurity, as many have little recourse against hypothermia and frostbite.
In the face of this strife, the Minneapolis Sanctuary Movement arose. Although the movement is largely autonomous, the goal of those who work in it is clear – to meet the needs of Minneapolis’s unhoused population. They are distributing necessities such as food and water, campaigning for vacant hotels to be used for housing and overwhelmingly opposing violent evictions like the one at Peavey Park last week.
Prominent members of the movement are calling for more action from elected officials, who do not have plans in place to aid unhoused people who will be vulnerable to the oncoming cold weather. One such figurehead is Dr. Bilal Musrad, founder of Zakat, Aid and Charity Assisting Humanity, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to people struggling with poverty and housing insecurity, with a particular focus on those from marginalized communities. “Only the state has the capacity and resources to continue doing this work throughout the winter,” said Musrad during a rally outside the St. Paul capitol. “This is not the job for you and I to do. This is what our state politicians were hired to do for us.” More than 100 people were gathered to demand that Governor Tim Walz and other elected officials expand public housing and put more funding into vacant hotel rooms that could house displaced people.
Even in the face of violent evictions like the one at Peavey Park, it is clear that the activists involved with the Sanctuary Movement intend to do all that they can to break the cycle of suffering that continues to subjugate Minneapolis’s most vulnerable community members.