Divided Minneapolis Park Board supports encampment at Powderhorn Park

The board voted to 'provide refuge space to people currently experiencing homelessness'

An encampment along 14th Avenue South in Minneapolis.
An encampment along 14th Avenue South in Minneapolis on Wednesday. It is one of two encampments in Powderhorn Park that together have an estimated 180 tents.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated: 5:43 p.m. | Posted: 5:30 a.m.

The Minneapolis Park Board voted this week to allow homeless encampments in city parks.

After a long discussion about two encampments at Powderhorn Park, commissioners voted late Wednesday to "provide refuge space to people currently experiencing homelessness."

The board also vowed to work with government and nonprofit agencies on a long-term solution.

"I am unwilling to evict somebody unless I can tell them where they should go," said Commissioner Chris Meyer, who voted yes.

Commissioner Steffanie Musich cast one of the two votes in opposition.

"It reads to me like an invitation for every homeless person in the state to move into a Minneapolis park," Musich said.

An encampment along 14th Avenue South in Minneapolis.
An encampment along 14th Avenue South in Minneapolis on Wednesday. It is one of two encampments in Powderhorn Park that together have an estimated 180 tents.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Vaughn Yaints was among the more than 200 people who’d sought shelter in the midtown Sheraton hotel during the unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd. 

After they were ordered out of the building last week, the 62-year-old and many others made their way to Powderhorn Park.

A man in front of tents at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis.
Vaughn Yaints has set up a tent at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis after he and others who'd sought shelter at a nearby Sheraton hotel were told to vacate.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Yaints, who’s been homeless for much of his life, said he suffers from chronic medical problems.

He helps sort through the donations that people drop off, and along with other residents, he keeps an eye out for trouble.

“It’s been safe. We had a few problems, but we work it out ourselves,” he said.

Yaints said there’s a strong sense of community here, with a group meal every evening. Helping coordinate it is volunteer Michelle Smith. She said the park board initially ordered everyone out, but soon backed off. 

“We got them to revoke the eviction, and they gave us time to stay. We’ve been handling that situation. I feel that as long as we can keep things under control, I don’t think we’ll have a problem,” Smith said.

There are two encampments at the park, one in the northwest corner, and another on the east side along 14th Avenue. Between them, they have around 180 tents.

Superintendent Al Bangoura said the park board is spending $7,400 per week to rent port-a-potties, and is also providing showers and electricity for those living at Powderhorn Park.

Bethann Barankovich, who lives near Powderhorn said the encampments are the latest manifestation of decades of underinvestment in mental health care and low income housing. At the same time Barankovich says the activists who organized the encampment after the Sheraton shelter closed are unable to provide the kinds of services that this vulnerable population needs.

“They should not be doing this. They need to reach out in other ways if they want to change and fix the homelessness in Minneapolis,” she said.

David Hewitt at the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness told the board the Powderhorn encampments together have about 180 tents, larger than the 2018 "Wall of Forgotten Natives" encampment on Hiawatha Avenue.

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