Viral illness outbreak at encampment spurs public health concerns

The City of Minneapolis confirmed to Alpha News that it plans to close the camp "soon" over "public health and safety concerns."

The "Nenookaasi" encampment at E 26th St. and 14th Ave S. (Submitted to Crime Watch)

A viral illness outbreak at a controversial Minneapolis homeless encampment has spurred public health concerns, including for police and city employees who are tasked with servicing or having contact at the camp.

The City of Minneapolis confirmed to Alpha News that it plans to close the camp “soon” over “public health and safety concerns.”

The encampment, dubbed “Camp Nenookaasi” by organizer Nicole Mason, is currently located on a vacant lot owned by the City of Minneapolis at the intersection of East 26th Street and 14th Avenue South in the Phillips neighborhood.

The lot had been fenced off to prevent trespassers, but the fence was breached and campers began occupying the space in the first week of January as news spread that the former encampment location at East 23rd Street and 13th Avenue South would be evicted that week.

Vacant city lot prior to encampment occupation (Google Maps street view)

The camp at its former site was the scene of a shooting homicide in December as well as at least two other recent shootings and a string of other incidents including shots fired, assaults, overdoses, stolen vehicles, mountains of trash, and the recovery of a deceased “fetus” in October.

The city postponed evicting the camp from its prior location at least twice after facing backlash from activists and City Council members as well as a failed lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this month to try to stop the eviction.

The new encampment site, which is reportedly occupied by 100-150 people, was rumored to have had a norovirus outbreak last week that sickened several people.

Following news of a viral outbreak, Alpha News received a statement from the head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis expressing concern for officers and city workers who need to come into contact with the encampment or individuals at the camp.

“I find it irresponsible for the City of Minneapolis to send its employees into an encampment in the midst of a viral outbreak … ,” said union president Sherral Schmidt. “City employees aren’t trained or equipped to handle these situations. If the City proceeds with removal of this encampment under these conditions it creates a public health crisis. It needlessly exposes City employees, their families, and their coworkers to the viral infection. Furthermore, it sends the unhoused people into the community without treatment or services thereby also exposing people they will interact with to the virus.”

Schmidt urged the city and Mayor Jacob Frey to work with the Minneapolis Health Department and “focus immediate attention on finding a safe and appropriate means to provide health and sanitation services to the people in the encampment.”

On Sunday afternoon there was a report of an overdose at the encampment, and responders were advised by the dispatcher to wear masks and gloves, according to police scanner audio.

In a statement received from the city on Monday, a spokesperson confirmed that 20 to 30 cases of a “viral gastrointestinal illness” had been associated with the camp but said the city is not aware of any hospitalizations of anyone from the encampment.

The spokesperson told Alpha News that a closure that was rumored to be scheduled for Tuesday (today) was not planned, “but given the public health and safety concerns at the encampment, the City is working toward closing the encampment soon.”

“Our epidemiology team is monitoring the situation and has provided interventions to stop transmission and new occurrences. Viral GI illness does not pose a risk to anyone who does not live at the encampment,” the spokesperson said.

The city said it’s been working for months with government partners, service providers, and community leaders to connect those residing at the former encampment with housing, shelter, and addiction services. The spokesperson stated that “despite available shelter space, a smaller group of residents set up a new encampment just blocks away on City property that is slated for an affordable housing development.”

Alpha News will continue to follow developments at the encampment.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

 

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.