Minnesota lawmaker condemned for comparing homelessness to camping

The Grand Rapids senator's comments have been denounced by Twin Cities leaders.
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A Minnesota senator is under fire after he posted a video on Twitter in which he posited why campgrounds in northern Minnesota aren't allowed to open while homeless people can camp in the Twin Cities.

Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids) shot the short video in St. Paul in front of a homeless encampment, noting that "as you can see behind me, we've got a nice little tent city set up here."

"Unfortunately in Greater Minnesota, Governor Walz has campground shutdown," he continues. "Governor this is an appeal to you, please open up campgrounds in northern Minnesota. If you're okay with this, we should certainly be okay with our resorts in northern Minnesota campgrounds being open."

His tweet also read: "How is camping on the streets of St Paul any safer then your family camping up North? Time to safely open up campgrounds in MN."

After noting his disappointment that the Boundary Waters is currently closed to overnight camping, he went on to say "it's also unfortunate this is how our homeless people have to live right now."

The video has since been deleted, but not before it was saved by the Minnesota DFL.

The video drew swift condemnation from Twin Cities and state lawmakers, with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter calling it "disgusting," while the Senate DFL Caucus issued a statement saying: "Living in a tent on the streets because you're experiencing homelessness is not a fun vacation outing.

"We have a housing crisis – which was exacerbated by the pandemic. Senator Eichorn is using our most vulnerable Minnesotans experiencing homelessness for political posturing."

Trista MatasCastillo, District 3 Ramsey County Commissioner, wrote a thread on Twitter noting how the COVID-19 pandemic has caused homeless shelters to reduce their capacity by as much as 75 percent to preserve social distancing.

"Many are in tents alone because they feel it's safer than a cot adjacent to a dozen others," she wrote. "Instead of trying to force the Governor to reject the advice of scientists and doctors and promote unsafe behavior, Sen. Eichorn should focus on getting us the resources to help our fellow Minnesotans in their time of greatest need."

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In a statement later given to the Star Tribune, Eichorn said his video "may have missed the mark," but said his aim was to "attempt to convince the Governor to take heed of the dismal economic conditions folks in my district and across Minnesota are facing."

Currently under the Stay at Home order, which is in place till May 18, all private and public campgrounds are closed to recreational camping.

The closures do not apply to those who use the campsite as their primary residence, or seasonal renters who maintain personal property at the site.

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