Minneapolis council meeting on encampments turns heated

MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - A Minneapolis council committee meeting over homeless encampments turned heated on Wednesday as council members argued with each other and activists in the crowd.

The conflict started between council member LaTrisha Vetaw, who is not on the Public Health and Safety Committee but was sitting in on the meeting, and committee chair Jason Chavez, but turned into a shouting match between Vetaw and activists in the crowd.

The chaos started after Vetaw took aim at the drug abuse associated with the encampments, sharing a candid story about her mother's battle with crack addiction. Vetaw argued that allowing encampments is consequently allowing the addiction to continue.

"The people in there are addicted, it's addiction in there," argued Vetaw. "I had three women say I want my kids back. I was one of those kids. I was taken away from my mother. And guess what, when I wasn't with her, every single day, I cried, I worried. 'Where is she? Is she coming back tonight? Is she alive? Is someone going to say that she didn't make it?' Crack was terrible and opioids are worst when you've seen it firsthand."

However, Chavez interjected, trying to get the meeting back on focus -- which was an opportunity to question city leaders about the recent evictions of Camp Nenookaasi. Chavez and Vetaw went back and forth, leading to Vetaw calling Chavez "a fraud." Vetaw then started arguing with activists in the crowd, supporting the encampment residents.

Chavez took issue with Vetaw "assigning motivation" to council members during her remarks. The meeting then spiraled out of control, leading to the meeting being adjourned.

"I'm going to remind my colleagues to never," Chavez warned, "especially if you are not a member of this committee, come and disrespect --"

"Save your reminder," Vetaw interjected. "I say what I want to say. I have the same election certificate you have. The way you treat staff is the way I'm going to treat you for the next two years."

"You will not disrespect council members, and you will not disrespect the public," Chavez stated before gaveling the meeting to a close. "We all have standards to uphold, and you have failed that standard."

Vetaw then proceeded to face off with an advocate for the homeless, Nicole Mason, who was among the audience supporting Nenookaasi residents.

Encampment update from city officials

During the meeting, before the explosive ending, council members questioned city officials over the recent clearing of another encampment on Tuesday. That encampment emerged after a larger clearing of an encampment, dubbed "Camp Nenookaasi" by activists, earlier in the month. Nenookaasi itself was formed after MnDOT closed another encampment known as the "Wall of Forgotten Natives."

City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher went through the timeline of events and explained to leaders what the city considers different elements when deciding to clear the encampment, like size, neighborhood impact, and the encampment's surroundings.

Chavez, however, raised issue with the way the city clears encampments, saying it causes more harm than good. Chavez announced last week he, along with council members Aisha Chugtai and Aurin Chowdhury, is introducing ordinances on how the city responds to encampments at an upcoming council meeting.

Chavez also grilled Kelliher on why little notice was given before the recent eviction, giving residents little time to pack and leave.

The rest of the meeting focused on what the city is doing to help those with mental health troubles and addiction along with law enforcement response to encampments before and during evictions.