Council approves plan for encampment

A unanimous City Council voted Wednesday to move ahead with a plan to relocate members of a large homeless encampment along Hiawatha Avenue to a nearby site owned by Red Lake Nation.

The council had previously explored two other options for temporarily housing and providing services to members of the tent encampment, home to several hundred people. It would have cost an estimated $2 million–$2.5 million to construct and operate temporary housing on either site.

A third possible location emerged shortly after council members decided on Sept. 20 to push back their decision one week.

Red Lake Nation owns the 1.25-acre site located at 2105-2109 Cedar Ave. S., which is adjacent to two city-owned parcels and surrounds Cedar Box Company, a box, crate and packaging manufacturer. The site is also near the Franklin Avenue light rail station.

Red Lake Nation plans to begin construction on an affordable housing project at the Cedar Avenue location in May of next year. The existing buildings on the site are occupied, but Red Lake Nation Secretary Sam Strong said the tenant would be willing to end the lease early and move as soon as a week after the council vote. The plan is to remediate and demolish the buildings before moving in temporary housing, likely in the form of trailers.

Plans for the site also include a navigation center where members of the encampment can connect with government services and get help transitioning out of homelessness.

Although Strong told council members he was confident the timeline could be accelerated, the site may not be ready until early December. That means it would operate for about six months.

In a statement released after the council’s vote, Mayor Jacob Frey thanked tribal leadership for partnering with the city.

“As city staff turns its attention to preparing the site as quickly as possible, I will continue working with my colleagues in City Hall, neighboring jurisdictions, and the native community to continue the extensive outreach essential for a smooth transition to 2109,” he said in the statement. “Our work will continue to be done in partnership with the native community and will be guided by several overriding goals: protecting everyone’s health and safety, providing supportive social services, and ultimately finding more permanent housing options for our communities experiencing homelessness.”

Details on how to fund the project, and what entities in addition to the city may contribute, were not finalized at the time of the council’s vote. The county, working with nonprofits and homeless outreach workers, is expected to run the navigation center.