The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is trying to get residents of a large homeless encampment in Powderhorn Park to move out. Even as officials cleared a camp from the park’s east side last month, they allowed one on the west side to remain. But neighbors, police and community groups say it has become a magnet for crime and is unsafe for those living there.
A week ago, people living in dozens of tents along 10th Avenue began receiving hand-delivered letters encouraging them to pack up and go elsewhere. But unlike the 72-hour notices that the east encampment residents received last month, this letter from Superintendent Al Bangoura was headlined “notice of transition.”
Bangoura explained the new approach at Wednesday’s park board meeting.
“There is not a set time frame for those departures, but we’re working to reduce the site incrementally,” Bangoura said. “We have been working with our partners and providing staff and transportation on site to assist the relocating of people.”
Bangoura said the encampment needs to be vacated because it’s not in line with new rules that limit sites to 25 tents each at 20 city parks. He also points to major health and safety problems.
Of the three dozen encampments around Minneapolis, Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto said the one at Powderhorn continues to have the largest number of serious incidents. After receiving a call about a sexual assault last week, Ohotto said officers arrested a man who had a warrant out for a parole violation related to a previous rape, and was “the second person we’ve arrested for sexual assault within the Powderhorn encampment that has had a parole violation warrant for sexual assault.”
Homeless people began moving to city parks in early June. Around 200 had sought refuge in a makeshift, volunteer-run shelter at a hotel near the Midtown Global Market. But the hotel’s owner evicted everyone after a resident overdosed. Volunteers then shuttled residents a few blocks south to Powderhorn.
The board soon passed a resolution allowing parks to be used as “refuge space” indefinitely. But last month, commissioners imposed restrictions after a spike in crime. On July 20, park staff, social workers and police cleared the east camp. Around 20 people were arrested, though most were protesters aligned with the Minneapolis Sanctuary Movement who appeared after the bulk of the tents had been hauled away in garbage trucks.
At a rally on Monday, several encampment residents decried the park board’s move to clear Powderhorn’s west side. Nadine Little said people with nowhere else to go shouldn’t be just shuffled off.
“You don’t want us out here. You keep moving us place to place. That’s not right. That’s not good,” Little said.
Park Commissioner Londel French has supported the Sanctuary Movement and is a regular presence at Powderhorn. But he’s encouraging residents to take advantage of the limited shelter space that’s available or go to smaller encampments at other city parks. French said the transition shouldn’t be rushed.
“It’s hard when you tell somebody where they’ve been living for two months that they have to leave in three days,” French said. ”And so we’re trying to make it as easy as possible, as humane as possible by giving people a little time to move out.”
To that end, the park board is working with the organization Mad Dads to smooth the transition. Coy Lehn is among the members, clad in green T-shirts, who’ve been urging residents to pack up and get on three school buses parked along 10th Avenue that are ready to take them elsewhere.
“I’m sure people will be convinced to get on and move to a better location, a cleaner location, somewhere where they can get help with water, better restrooms and facilities for them,” Lehn said.
So far there have been few takers. About five dozen tents remain at Powderhorn, many more than allowed. And with cold weather just a few months away, Minneapolis officials have yet to come up with a long-term solution for all of the city’s homeless residents, whether it’s additional shelter space or permanent housing.