Healthcare Workers to Mayor Frey: Adhere to Public Health Guidelines & Stop the Evictions

MAYOR JACOB FREY AND MINNEAPOLIS CITY COUNCIL

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Chad Davis

On Thursday, March 18th, the Minneapolis Police Department attempted to orchestrate a brutal eviction of yet another encampment. As health care workers, public health workers, providers, students, and researchers, we are calling Mayor Frey and the members of the City Council to account for the choices they have made that allowed this traumatizing action targeting the Near North community to occur on their watch.

Housing displacement and homelessness are an accelerating crisis with deep public health implications highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mayor and City Council have allowed the city department of Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED) and the Minneapolis Police Department to make decisions and take egregious actions violating public health guidance.

We welcome signatories from across the country who represent every corner of public health work, clinical work, shelter and outreach work, and education. It is crucial for people in our fields to lend legitimacy to the efforts of people who were hurt yesterday doing what the City of Minneapolis should be doing: protecting the health and wellbeing of all.

Personalized emails are the most effective way of reaching our electeds, and live on in the public record. Paste the letter into your email, and send to Mayor Jacob Frey: Jacob.Frey@minneapolismn.gov. Find your City Councilmember's email here: https://www.minneapolismn.gov/government/city-council/.

To: MAYOR JACOB FREY AND MINNEAPOLIS CITY COUNCIL
From: [Your Name]

To: Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey,

As public health workers, we are outraged by the brutal attempt​ to evict another encampment using the Minneapolis Police Department on Thursday, March 18th. We are calling Mayor Frey and the members of the City Council to account for the choices they have made that allowed this to occur on their watch. Housing displacement and homelessness are an accelerating crisis with deep public health implications highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. You have allowed the city department of Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED) and the Minneapolis Police Department to make decisions and take egregious actions violating public health guidance.

The community established at the Near North Camp are asking for permanent housing in their control and that allows them to stay together as a community. They are asking for the same things we know to be fundamental to public health. In return they are being subjected to violence, trauma, and repeated threats to their safety by a city government and police department that fails to implement the following public health guidance:

1) The clearing, sweeping, and/or eviction of encampments is in direct violation of CDC guidelines and is contrary to what local and state departments of health have asked of you. These guidelines are in place because of the harmful consequences of evictions: loss or destruction of personal belongings like IDs, medications, photos of children, weather appropriate clothing or bedding; acute-on-chronic trauma causing mistrust of public resources like city services or outreach workers; interruptions in healthcare and exacerbations of chronic illnesses like HIV, seizure disorders or opioid use disorder - all of which are treated with daily medication adherence; disrupted connection and attachment to social workers and housing workers; acute psychological distress. There are additional risks of disrupting encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic and the local HIV epidemic that particularly affects unsheltered people in Minneapolis (and now Duluth). People will be forced into higher risk settings, like the street, congregate shelter, or double up with vulnerable family members, all of which can lead to further disease spread. We urge the City Council and Mayor to make an unambiguous commitment to a moratorium on all evictions, including camp clearings.

2) The March 18th attempted eviction occurred during a COVID vaccine distribution event specifically intended for people who are homeless and unsheltered. This is a very challenging population to reach for COVID immunization, particularly since we have yet to maintain a reliable source of single-dose vaccines or vaccines that are temperature tolerant enough for street outreach teams. People living in encampments all around the city may be increasingly hesitant to leave their home to attend a vaccine clinic - or access otherwise crucial care - given the looming fear that their belongings will have disappeared upon their return. Frontline public health workers need to maintain trust with people experiencing homelessness for any kind of health care, but especially for COVID-19 vaccination. This breakdown in trust contributes to the unacceptable racial inequities we are seeing with COVID vaccination. Evictions make our jobs as public health workers harder and all of our neighbors less safe: Instead, the City must not only coordinate with health care workers who work specifically with people who are chronically homeless but allow those health care workers to lead efforts to equitably increase vaccine access.

3) The city has violated the trust of the health care workers you called heroes just a few months ago. There is a pattern of city officials undermining public health and clinical leadership regarding equitable response to infectious disease outbreaks, taking leadership away from clinical leaders and giving it to departments that are wholly unqualified to make these decisions, namely CPED and the Minneapolis Police Department. The city consistently withholds information regarding planned evictions or camp clearings from front line health care workers and service providers, interrupting opportunities for housing and safe clinical decision-making. We insist on transparency in decision making, accountability for their harmful decisions, and an immediate course correction that re-centers public health as the cornerstone of public safety.

4) Police violence is a public health crisis recognized by the American Public Health Association and a leading cause of death among young men of color. Without question, having to witness police officers kneel on the neck of a civilian in Minneapolis is particularly traumatizing in the context of the police killing of George Floyd and the current murder trial of Derek Chauvin. Police officers this morning perpetrated violence and retraumatized a city. Chief Arradondo’s suggestion that residents or their supporters are “suspects'' is an abusive form of victim blaming. When the Mayor and City Council allow and even direct police to perform evictions, they are complicit in this public health crisis. We invite you to be accountable for some of the harmful impacts of centuries of structural violence impacting Black, Brown, and indigenous people by first enacting a moratorium on evictions and secondly investing in housing as a public health informed, viable and safe alternative to a growing crisis of housing displacement and homelessness. We specifically call on the City of Minneapolis to immediately open hotel rooms for all FEMA-qualified individuals using federal relief aid currently available.

To be clear: police violence and municipal neglect are a continuation of centuries of colonization, displacement, theft, and organized abandonment. It is your duty to fight for our collective freedom, our collective health, and our unabashed humanity.

Housing is health care. Land is life.

Toward healing,

Aarti Bhatt, MD
Adnan Ahmed, MBBS
Ahmed Issa, MD
Alex Hubbell, MD
Andrea Westby, MD
Andrew Legrid, LCSW
Anisha Rimal, MD
Ankit Mehta, MD
Anna Dykhuis, RN, AGACNP candidate
Asha Hassan, MPH
Barbara Peterson, APRN
Bilal Murad, MD
Casey Holmstrom, outreach worker, AFSCME Local 34
Cherisse Sardon Garrity APRN, FNP
Cobs Foucault, outreach worker
Gabriel Gerow, NRP
Hannah Lichtsinn, MD
Jack Loftus, LADC
Jack Martin, Executive Director, Southside Harm Reduction
James Schmidtt, outreach worker
Janna Gewirtz O'Brien, MD, FAAP
Jase Roe, outreach worker
Jeff Nelson, PA
Jenny Bjorgo, outreach worker
Kat Donnelly, RN PHN APRN, outreach worker
Kevin Carey, outreach worker
Kimberly Christoffel, LICSW
Kristin Hjartardottir, APRN
Kyle Lipinski, LPCC/LADC outreach worker
Marian Wright, advocate
Mike Westerhaus, MD
Mo Mike, outreach worker
Naheed Murad, MD
Patience Zalanga, shelter worker, Simpson Housing Services
Peter Thomas, JD MA
Rebecca Skoler, APRN, FNP
Robert Hoffman, shelter manager
Rory O’Brien, ADC candidate
Rosemary Fister, PHN APRN, outreach worker
Ryan Kelly, MD
Sarah Stackley, MPH candidate
Shailey Prasad, MD
Sheila Nezhad, Candidate for Mayor Minneapolis
Susan Betcher, MD

Organizational Endorsements:

AFSCME Local 999
Campaign Against Racism - Twin Cities Chapter
CAMP (Community Action Made 4 People)
Minneapolis Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Our Stories. Our Health.
Rahma Heart Care
Rise and Resist Southern Oregon
Siskiyou Street News
Southside Harm Reduction
ZACAH