Minneapolis Park Board approves guidelines, process, and limitations for park encampments

Nikki Love/MSR News A rainy day at Powderhorn Park

At their Wednesday, July 15, Board meeting, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that will reduce the number of parks with temporary encampments for people experiencing homelessness to 20, limit the number of tents per encampment to 25, and establish a new encampment permit requirement for each encampment.

“The Board believes people experiencing homelessness need to be treated in a humane manner. Providing temporary use of park refuge sites for encampments during this COVID and housing crisis allows us to do our small part. We will continue to work shoulder to shoulder with our city, county and state partners who provide services, shelters and housing for the homeless population,” said Jono Cowgill, Board President.

The resolution provides direction for the design and facilitation of temporary encampments in parks that supports the health and safety of individuals experiencing homelessness and preserves access to recreation features for park visitors. During a presentation to commissioners Wednesday night, MPRB staff noted there were encampments at 29 parks in addition to the two large encampments at Powderhorn Park where there were approximately 310 tents, down significantly from last week.  

During the presentation, staff provided an overview of current encampments, costs, safety and crime, public comments, and the Encampment Management Plan that is being developed.

The two primary questions the MPRB is responding to are “when will the Powderhorn encampment be reduced?” and “where will the 20 encampments be located?”.

According to Superintendent Al Bangoura, staff have been working with encampment organizers who have already moved people from Powderhorn to other park locations due to the size and safety concerns of the Powderhorn encampments. That work will continue with volunteer encampment organizers and city, county and state partners.

“The size of the encampment at Powderhorn Park will continue to be reduced at a reasonable pace until it is down to no more than 25 tents. There’s been a significant, steady reduction from 560 tents a week ago to 310 tents Wednesday morning to 270 tents Thursday afternoon,” explained Bangoura. “Significantly reducing the size of Powderhorn will also help address safety concerns for those living in the park and neighbors near the encampments.”

The MPRB acknowledges that it will take time to reduce the tents and population at Powderhorn and to deconcentrate tents across the park system to no more than 25 tents at no more than 20 park locations. It will likely be a fluid situation while outreach continues, encampment permit applications are communicated and processed, and park spaces are delineated. The priority for the MPRB will be first addressing sites with a documented threat to the health, safety, or security of residents.

“We need to address growing safety issues at certain sites, including the east side encampment at Powderhorn Park. Service agencies, volunteers, and homeless individuals have left the east side encampment out of concern for their safety,” explained Bangoura. “The risks to those unsheltered and to residents have risen to an unacceptable level.”

The locations of up to 20 Refuge Sites for encampments is yet to be determined.  The MPRB is not pre-selecting the 20 sites but rather allowing those applying for a temporary encampment permit to request the park they wish to stay in. Like other MPRB permit applications, the temporary encampment application will be reviewed by staff and the site will be approved or rejected based on staff’s analysis of the park’s capacity to support an encampment and other guidelines outlined in the resolution.  If approved, the MPRB will provide restrooms or portable toilets, hand washing stations (as vendor supplies allow), and trash/recycling containers to a permitted encampment within 48 hours of issuing a permit.

Encampment permit applications are available by contacting the MPRB at encampmentpermit@minneapolisparks.org.  Once an encampment permit is issued, the MPRB will communicate with the neighborhood association where the park is located and list the park on its www.minneapolisparks.org/encampments site.

At last Wednesday’s Board meeting, community members, staff and commissioners alike acknowledged that serving people experiencing homelessness is not the role of the MPRB and that temporary park encampments do not address the bigger issues facing the growing population of homeless individuals and families.

“We all know that park encampments are not a safe, proper or dignified form of housing, but there have been limited options,” said Bangoura. “We must continue to work collaboratively and collectively toward solutions so that those living in park encampments have accommodations before cold weather arrives.”

–Information provided by Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.