Social Issues

Powderhorn residents plead for help to manage homeless encampment

People standing and talking.
Powderhorn residents Angelina Roslik, Bethann Barankovich and Russ Adams talk with a volunteer security worker outside one of the homeless encampments in Powderhorn Park around 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
Britta Greene | MPR News

Every night, Angelina Roslik says she can watch a steady stream of cars pass in front of her home on a dead-end street overlooking Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis. 

The cars — backing in and out, pulling up next to each other, or idling for long stretches at a time — are a new presence here, she says. 

Roslik believes they’re symptomatic of an uptick in open drug use and sex trafficking — something she says is tied to an encampment of people who started gathering in the park last month. 

“If you sit here long enough, you’ll start to see people coming and going. Coming to the passenger side window. Like we see right there,” Roslik said, looking out from her front porch on Saturday night. “A lot of times, it’s a woman getting in and out."

She and some of her neighbors are conflicted. They want encampment residents to have stable housing and access to the services they need. At the same time, they feel the encampment is unsafe and unsustainable, for all involved.

But Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner AK Hassan said the crime neighbors are pointing to is not linked to the encampment. “When we talk about crimes that happen here, these are not new crimes,” he said at a press conference at the park last week. “Let’s not find excuses.”

Roslik disagrees. She said she has seen violent disputes at all hours of the night over the past couple of weeks, and people pulling out guns in broad daylight. She’s seen needles and feces scattered in yards up and down the street.  

Roslik moved to her current home only a couple months ago. She works as an ASL and Spanish-language interpreter, a waitress and a pet sitter. Given her modest income, she felt lucky to find a place right on the park. 

“I’ve been searching for affordable housing for almost five years,” she said. “It has been really hard, so when I got here in April, I was so grateful to be here that I cried.”

In mid-June, tents started going up across the street. They now house hundreds of homeless people and families, many displaced by the pandemic and violence following the killing of George Floyd. 

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has supported the movement by allowing the encampments to stand — to provide what they call "refuge space." The park board has been supplying portable toilets and hand-washing stations. Other basic resources — like food, medical care, and security — have been supplied by a loose network of volunteers. 

Joining Roslik on her porch Saturday were neighbors Bethann Barankovich and Russ Adams.

All three say they support those living in the park, and feel most are not taking part in criminal activity. But they say there’s no clear leadership in charge of public health and safety, and the current situation has become untenable.

“We’re all liberals,” Barankovich said. “We’re all sympathetic and would love for these people to have dignified housing and to get the social services that the city, the state, the county is failing to support. But this is not the answer.” 

Tents are seen from across a lake.
The Minneapolis Park Board estimates there are now more than 400 tents in Powderhorn Park, seen here June 19.
Evan Frost | MPR News

At the press conference at the park last week, Gregory Riley, who said he volunteers providing security in the park, called for aid from officials.

“We put our lives on the line here to make sure everyone’s safe, to make sure the community’s safe,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can. … We need some help. Throwing people out is not a solution.”

Roslik argues conditions have become unsafe not just for neighbors, many of whom are immigrant families with young children, but also for those in the tents themselves.

Roslik said she recently saw a car drive into the park, narrowly missing a tent where children were sleeping. At about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, she watched as a man rode up on a bike while blasting music. It’s become nearly impossible for families — in the encampment and in neighboring houses — to get a solid night’s sleep, she said.

The park board estimates there are now more than 400 tents in Powderhorn Park, with more encampments in about 34 other parks across the city. Activists and volunteers have been asking city and state officials to step in and find a more permanent solution, but so far, nothing has materialized. 

In the meantime, Barankovich said the neighborhood has lost a park that was a haven for working-class families, particularly during COVID-19, when everyone’s been staying close to home.

“I recognize that, yes, some officials have their plates full at this time,” she said, “but at the same time, it’s their job to address it.”