Police and heavy equipment cleared out what was left of the east homeless encampment at Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park, forcing campers to pack up and find a new place to live.
Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura issued an eviction notice to the encampment Friday, just days after the board voted to cut down on the number of tent camps in local parks. The notice gave campers 72 hours to leave, parks spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said.
All but two to three campers had left the encampment Monday, with the holdouts refusing to leave, Sommers said. A couple dozen people showed up as the site was being cleared and about 20 people were arrested, she said.
The site had become a source of contention in the neighborhood. Homeowners across the street from the park were alarmed and infuriated by numerous reports of sexual assaults, drug use and fights at the eastern encampment. Volunteers who were a constant presence at the camp had pulled back in recent days and had begun taking campers who no longer felt comfortable there to other locations.
Last week, the Park Board voted to allow Bangoura to disband any encampment that posed a documented risk to health and safety, as outlined by an executive order passed by Gov. Tim Walz for the coronavirus pandemic.
“This has just risen to an unacceptable level,” Sommers said Wednesday.
The first residents of the camp migrated to Powderhorn from their shelter in a former Sheraton hotel in the aftermath of the riots following the killing of George Floyd by police. As the encampment grew on the northwest corner of the park, some moved to form another on the east side.
There were about 310 tents at the eastern encampment near its peak two weeks ago, and 150 as of last week, according to the Park Board.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, no tents were left, Sommers said.
Earlier in the day, the remaining residents were bringing down their tents and tossing their belongings into shopping carts and wheelbarrows. Some packed their bags into cars. Others mingled in the shade.
Connie Dunkley doused her head in water next to her partner, Mudryll Holley, and their belongings. Holley was blinded and paralyzed in a car accident three years ago, so Dunkley disassembled and packed everything by herself.
“I didn’t want nobody to help me, because I want to make sure I know where everything is when I go to another site and unpack,” she said. She did not want to say where they were going.
The pair, homeless for the past three months, had lived in Powderhorn for two weeks. Dunkley said it was sad to see and hear of people overdosing, sexually assaulting others and fighting over items.
“It got very bad,” she said. “We were able to keep to ourselves. We weren’t bothering nobody, nobody was bothering us.”
A cleanup crew contracted by the Park Board was at the park Monday picking up needles and other trash. One crew member used a skid-steer to tear down a cluster of tents and toss them into a garbage truck. They would do a more thorough sweep of the area Tuesday, Sommers said.
Police officers monitored from the sidelines, and a bus waited by the curb to move people out. A teepee that had once stood on the grounds as a symbol of Native American land was nowhere to be seen.
Many of the encampment’s residents had already moved out to other city parks or other shelter.
“This was about as peaceful as I could expect,” said Park Board Commissioner Londel French, who was at the park. “We were asking people to leave for a week, almost a whole week. Nobody just found out today they would be moving.”
Now volunteers or nonprofits will have to apply for permits to establish encampments, and the Park Board will review the applications based on select criteria. There will be up to 20 designated encampments with up to 25 tents each, according to the board’s resolution.
People were already having difficulty certifying existing sites; volunteer Kat Eng said an attempt to permit one in Logan Park was turned down by the Park Board because it was near a school, and that campers would also get an eviction notice.
The encampment on the northwest side of Powderhorn Park, where a man was shot last week, was not disbanded.
Douglas Ellis was one of the last holdouts at the eastern encampment. Homeless for six months after moving back to Minneapolis from Grand Portage, he had been at Powderhorn for about two weeks.
The encampment had plenty of food, camping gear and other donated items, but it was still accompanied by violent crime and drug use. There was another one, by 26th Street and 13th Avenue, that he thought he would check out next.
He never expected life at Powderhorn would last for long.
“They just made us leave, that’s all,” he said. “Like every other place we’ve been to.”
Staff writer Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report. Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753