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'Not a sustainable solution': advocates, Powderhorn Park residents push for government help

Around 100 unhoused people have sought shelter in Powderhorn Park since last week.

Since 100 unhoused people have set up tents for shelter in Powderhorn Park in the last six days, dozens of neighbors in the historically civic-minded community have volunteered to provide supplies and assist with safety and medical needs. 

But their help can only go so far, prompting advocates to call on government agencies to come up with a plan to handle what they describe as an "emergency humanitarian situation" in the south Minneapolis park.

Many of the people living in the park came after having to leave the volunteer-run shelter in the former Sheraton hotel. Some organizers behind that project, now called the Minneapolis Sanctuary Movement, have also been leading efforts to protect and support them. 

Park residents, neighbors and advocates have set a meeting for Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the park, where they have invited dozens of elected officials and government employees to discuss solutions. They are calling for plans for “dignified, culturally informed permanent housing” by Friday.

“We are getting very little support or participation from elected officials. That’s why we’re kind of calling the question right now, and inviting them to the park tonight,” said Lee George, who lives near the park. “We are just a random group of people trying to … support this growing group of 100 people in the park. It’s not a sustainable solution. There has to be some other work that happens and some policy work.”

After around 30 people arrived to park last week, officers with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board issued 72-hour notices of eviction Friday. Within hours, MPRB Superintendent Albert Bangoura rescinded the evictions after public outcry.

“I had hoped to use the next 72 hours to work with local leaders and local agencies to find the resources and connect people to the housing, shelter and services they need, but now recognize that 72 hours is not enough time,” he said in a statement.

Since then, advocates have continued to push for the MPRB, which meets Wednesday, to allow unhoused people to stay in the park. They are calling for the board to open park bathrooms and to allow other agencies to provide supplies such as Port o’ Potties, handwashing stations, drinking water stations and a designated dumpster. In addition, advocates are calling for MPRB to recognize all parks as sanctuaries for unhoused people to stay safely long-term.

The number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night increased by 10 percent between 2015 and 2018, Wilder Research found in its latest report. The number of people aged 55, who are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, increased by 25 percent. In addition, 80 percent of respondents said they suffer from chronic illness, substance abuse or mental illness.

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Around 20,000 people statewide are unhoused on a given day. People of color comprised 66 percent of respondents in the study. People identifying as Black, African American or Native American were overrepresented compared to the state population — 37 percent identified as Black or African American and 12 percent identified as American Indian, while these demographics comprise 5 percent and 1 percent, respectively, of Minnesota adults.

Gov. Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Minneapolis City Council, the Met Council and a dozen state legislators are among those invited to the Tuesday meeting. Government employees working in housing-adjacent departments have also been asked to attend.

“We are all kind of wandering through this together. So we’re like, OK, elected officials, we need you here. We need you to confront this humanitarian issue that’s happening, and we need answers, and possible solutions,” George said. 

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