Neighbors, activists call for housing solution as concerns over Powderhorn encampment continue

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Every day, longtime resident John Klein takes a walk in the streets around Powderhorn Park, and finds a few unwelcome items.

In an alley near 10th Avenue and 31st street, he’s found hypodermic needles, wrappers and pieces of aluminum foil.

"You can walk anywhere in the park and find these,” he says. “The amount of drug use, and the predators that are coming to sell the drugs, and the fights.”

Klein and a friend, Julie Enerson, showed 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS an area where they’ve found drug paraphernalia before.

They say an encampment on the western edge of the park is populated by drug dealers and addicts.

"I have looked outside my window and seen them shooting up and sitting there with tourniquets and needles hanging out of their arms,” Enerson said. “It’s terrible because there are children right across the street. Their parents aren’t letting them play anymore, and I’m concerned for the needles in the grass.”

Klein likens the area to a drug marketplace.

He points out a series of concrete barriers installed by city crews, he says, to keep people from driving cars into the park.

“You go from midnight, 1 in the morning, it’s like a supermarket,” Klein said. “People counting out cash.”

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But he says it doesn’t stop there.

This week Klein — who’s lived in the neighborhood for 37 years — says he witnessed a gunfight almost right in front of his house.

"Two men were shooting across 35th Street, and another on the other side,” he said. “All three of them emptied their guns, and there are shell casings everywhere.”

Klein and Enerson say they are concerned with the safety of residents in the area but also worry about those living in the encampment who aren’t involved in criminal activity.

"I find the homeless are a vulnerable population and with this comes some really bad people,” Enerson said. “There’s been dealing of drugs, there have been vehicles in and out, and they literally drive through the park.”

Meanwhile Saturday, outside Mayor Jacob Frey’s home, protesters continued their call for a permanent housing solution for the homeless.

“We want housing that we can afford,” said Junail Anderson, who now lives in an encampment in Logan Park. “Because the wintertime is coming, we would love to get into a building. But we want to get into a building that’s getting run smoothly.”

The protest comes as the Minneapolis City council is looking at plans to spend federal CARES Act money to shelter more people. The city also plans to build 400 new housing units by February.

But some at the protest believe Minneapolis already has enough facilities to shelter the homeless.

“There’s a lot of buildings out here that is empty,” said Nadine Little, who lives in an encampment. “They can be cleaned up, they can be redone, so we’re not homeless out here anymore.”

The proposed city spending plan calls for nearly $8 million in coronavirus funding for three new shelters — one for women, one for Native Americans and a third for medically vulnerable people.

But Klein wonders about the immediate future and hopes city leaders will act quickly to help those in the encampments.

“I think it’s almost like if we ignore them, it will go away,” he said. “These are homeless folks, they’re all vulnerable and they need much more support and resources than they’re getting. People in tents are even more vulnerable than people in houses.”