More encampments emerging in Minneapolis as Park Board pushes for action

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The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is moving forward with relocating those experiencing homelessness at Powderhorn Park. The agency said the west side was given notice on Monday to transition to a shelter or another site.

There are still about 55 tents at the site, according to the Park Board.

“I really expected us to be further along in this process,” Board Vice President LaTrisha Vetaw said at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Commissioners heard a presentation from Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto, who shared the offense reports since July 15. Thirteen were from Powderhorn Park, including multiple assaults, arson and a rape on July 30.

Loring Park has also become a problem area, said Ohotto, with seven offense reports. The majority of those were domestic assaults.

Two assault offense reports were from Peavey Park, and Elliot Park experienced six incidents, including robbery and assault.

None of those parks are permitted under the board’s new rules.

“It’s very concerning to me because I’m receiving calls all day long regarding Loring Park, Logan Park, Peavey Park, Powderhorn Park, Kenwood Park, Elliott Park,” Vetaw said.

She said Peavey, Powderhorn, Kenwood and Elliot Parks in particular have raised safety and health concerns.

“I am just not understanding why these particular parks, the four I named, why haven’t they just been served a vacate notice and we’ve moved in and done what we needed to do?” Vetaw said.

In mid-July, the Board voted to limit the number of encampments in the city to 20, with 25 tents each. They also implemented a permitting process for the operation of a site.

“It has been three weeks. People are afraid not only for their lives but their health. We are in the middle of a pandemic,” Vetaw said. “I understand this is hard […] but we need to address it, and the only way to address is to do what this board voted to do.”

Superintendent Al Bangoura said it’s an issue they are working through while respecting the desire to take a different approach while relocating the encampments. He told the Park Board they are pursuing permits and looking at other designated sites to create alternatives.

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“We are clear of the concerns of the parks that you mentioned — I am very clear about those,” he said. “We are taking action on those areas and we are moving towards that there is no question. … What we’re careful about is not announcing openly to the public directly and right away what we’re doing.”

According to the board, there are more than 400 tents up at 38 known MPRB locations throughout the city, although encampments have been noticed at more than 55 parks.

“There are groups that are trying to make these encampments permanent because of this feeling that the parks could remain in that status,” said Commissioner Meg Forney. “It is not in our wheelhouse, it is not in our mission to shelter unsheltered homeless — that is not in our mission.”

She urged those who wish to operate an encampment to apply through the Park Board’s process.

An MPRB employee was physically assaulted at Logan Park, according to the Park Board. There have also been several incidents where people attempted to take over equipment and refused to get off. In addition, staff have been verbally harassed and had objects thrown at them, according to the presentation.

“We are not equipped for this, the staff, this is not what their expertise is,” Forney said.

Encampments at Loring, Logan, Lake Nokomis, Elliot, Matthews, Beltrami and Boom Island parks have all developed in the last few weeks.

Homeless Encampments

There are about a dozen tents located at Logan Park.

“I want people to know these are good folks over here,” said Junail Anderson, the encampment’s coordinator.

She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that she was previously the coordinator for the west side of Powderhorn Park.

“When I left, things started getting uglier but I took my first 25 [people] out,” said Anderson. “Those that wanted to go and get away from the drugs, get away from all of the other crazy stuff that was going on.”

She told us she’s been talking with the city about the possibility of obtaining a permit but is concerned about how restrictive it is. Anderson also said they’re taking security seriously, removing those who don’t follow the rules.

“These people are trying, they want housing,” Anderson said.

The city has approved four permits so far for Lake Harriet, Marshall Terrace, Bde Maka Ska/William Berry and The Mall parks.

They’ve also designated another 12 sites that could work, including Boom Island, Riverside, Annie Young, BF Nelson, Franklin Steele, Minnehaha Falls, Lyndale Farmstead, MLK, Bryn Mawr, Beltrami, Logan and Lake Nokomis parks.

“What ends up happening is one reactive strategy after another,” said John Tribbett, the street outreach manager for St. Stephen’s. “There’s not an overarching protracted strategy aimed at getting these people permanently off the street and into permanent housing, and that’s what we need to do or we’ll continue to see this in our community."

He said as of January, there were 643 unsheltered adults in Hennepin County.

“What’s happening now is not a new phenomenon, it is simply that it’s now in the public eye,” Tribbett said. “The governor’s executive order, in addition to the shuttering of services and general places of business, means people fell into place that were previously forced to be dislocated all the time.”

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He said the pandemic has also forced more people into homelessness.

“This morning I learned about a young man who had been employed at a restaurant about four months ago, he lost that job and is now been on the streets since that time,” he said.

Tribbett hopes a more permanent housing solution will be identified before the fall and winter. He expects there will be an increase in homelessness given the state of the economy and uncertainty over whether benefits will be extended as the pandemic continues.

“The trauma and suffering that we are allowing to occur in our midst, which will be a product of a change in seasons because we are not strategically addressing the problem at scale, it’s going to be consequential,” he said.