After declaring parks sanctuaries for unhoused people in June, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board this week has begun taking steps to cap the number of tents allowed in each park.
On Wednesday, the board voted to limit the number of parks allowed to have encampments to 20 with 25 tents per park. It also voted to establish a temporary permit for encampments, which can be issued to volunteers, non-profits or other people who choose to be responsible for overseeing it.
The resolution also gives Superintendent Al Bangoura the power to further limit or close encampments if they pose a documented risk to safety.
Then on Friday, the board issued a statement elaborating that it plans to take a scaled approach to reducing the number of tents in Powderhorn Park, rather than enforcing immediate removal of tents. It also said it is still determining which of the parks will be those that allow encampments, and will allow people applying for a permit to request a specific park.
The number of tents at Powderhorn, the largest encampment, has gone from 560 last week to 270 Thursday afternoon, according to the park board. 29 other parks have encampments, park board staff said Wednesday.
“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," Bangoura said in a statement.
The decision comes as community concern over safety, as well as advocacy for long-term housing, has increased in recent weeks.
Sexual and physical assaults, fights, robberies and more than one shooting has been reported at Powderhorn Park. Thursday, two people were shot and wounded at an encampment in Peavey Park.
The board has said its resolution is intended to support the safety and health of unhoused people while also preserving park access to the public. Its statement Friday reiterated that it does not hold itself responsible for finding solutions to the ongoing housing shortage.
"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," the statement reads.
David Hewitt, director of Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness, told the Star Tribune that Hennepin County is working to place people from encampments into stable housing, and that action to reduce the size of encampments is a step towards that goal.
“We all know that park encampments are not a safe, proper or dignified form of housing, but there have been limited options," Bangoura said in a statement. “We must continue to work collaboratively and collectively toward solutions, so that those living in park encampments have accommodations before cold weather arrives.”