State and Minneapolis officials on Friday said they’re working to reduce the size of two encampments in Powderhorn Park, which they say are already significantly smaller than previously estimated.
The encampments on the north end of the park were formed after homeless residents were evicted from a hotel-turned-shelter nearby in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. A survey conducted by nonprofit Avivo counted 282 campers as of July 2, according to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
By counting tents and not individuals, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board overstated the number of campers, said parks spokeswoman Dawn Sommers. The board had based its estimates on a calculation of 1.5 people per tent; there were 560 tents in Powderhorn this week.
Avivo, which used state funding to conduct its survey over three days last week, found that most campers had an additional tent for their belongings, according to Minnesota Housing communications director Jill Mazullo. There were also volunteers staying at the park.
“It’s really impossible to get a completely fail-safe, foolproof count at an encampment,” said Margaret King, regional manager for unsheltered homelessness at the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Just by nature, they’re really dynamic environments where people come day by day.”
Through the Avivo survey, state officials found that roughly half the people at the encampment had previously received homelessness services from Hennepin County. About 45% identify as Native American.
Different outreach workers serving youth, Native Americans and other groups are at the encampments daily looking to connect people with shelter or housing, King said. “Even though there are some shelter beds available every night … it’s still a very small number compared with the number of people that are left to survive outside,” she said.
There are now encampments in about 35 park locations, including larger ones at Elliot, Peavey, Kenwood and Lyndale Farmstead parks, according to Park Board tent counts.
Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said about 100 encampments overall exist across the city, which makes it difficult to focus on Powderhorn Park. She disagreed with the Park Board’s rejection of a resolution that could have limited the size of park encampments last week, saying large encampments can become unsafe and “impossible to reduce.”
Next week, the Park Board will vote on a new resolution that would limit the number of encampments in parks to 20, with no more than 25 tents at each location. It would also create a temporary encampment permit that volunteers or other entities can apply for, making them responsible for day-to-day oversight of the camp.
Bender also criticized an executive order by Gov. Tim Walz that prohibited the clearing of encampments unless they pose a documented health and safety threat.
“If you are going to create a scenario where you have very large encampments … you can’t walk away and point back at the city and say, ‘What are you going to do to shelter and house everyone?’ ” she said. “We are already pursuing dozens of strategies to shelter and house people, and we know that encampments create really crisis-level safety concerns.”
In an e-mail, a spokesman for the governor said, “[We understand] that encampments of a certain size pose a public safety risk. ... That’s why in April, Gov. Walz clarified his initial executive order to allow local governments to take action to improve safety. Our administration will continue to work with the Minneapolis Park Board, the city, and the county to find a solution.”
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753