DMNA letter to MPRB Jono Cowgill regarding homeless encampments

The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association recently sent this letter regarding the homeless encampments to MPRB District 4 Commissioner Jono Cowgill and the rest of the board.

July 23, 2020

Mr. Jono Cowgill, 4th District Park Commissioner

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
2117 West River Road
Minneapolis, MN 55411

Dear Jono:

Thank you so much for attending the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association Board Meeting on Monday, July 20.  We appreciate your willingness to provide an in person update on the status of the homeless encampments in Minneapolis parks and to respond to questions from our board and residents.  I am writing this letter to summarize and reiterate our concerns.  The following points were brought up during the meeting.

  1. There is open space in downtown shelters.  These locations would be a much better solution for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness than the encampments in Minneapolis parks, because of the resources they have access to and the specialized services they provide.
  2. Some people who are homeless are choosing not to access shelters, because they do not allow the use of drugs and alcohol.  The MPRB prohibits the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco in Minneapolis parks, but it is not enforcing these rules in the encampments.  The MPRB should hold the people living in the encampments accountable to the same rules with regards to drug, alcohol and tobacco use as the rest of the population.
  3. The encampments in The Commons and along West River Parkway are a health and safety concern to downtown residents.  The encampments are also hindering, if not prohibiting, the ability of residents to use and enjoy the parks.  Parents with children have expressed concern about visiting the parks due to language they have heard used by people living in the encampments, as well as some inappropriate behaviors they have witnessed.  The MPRB needs to monitor these locations to ensure they remain below the 20 tent threshold and to make certain that residents are following park rules with regards to drugs, alcohol and tobacco use.
  4. There is growing concern about the economic impact that the encampments are having on the city.  Minneapolis is widely known for its park system.  In fact, the Trust for Public Lands recently named it the Best City Park System in the United States. There is concern that people will choose not to visit Minneapolis, because of the encampments.  This will have a negative impact on the business community.
  5. There is a need to develop a long-term plan for individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis.  There is concern that the MPRB reacted too quickly to the encampments.  There is a big difference between reacting and responding.  A response is well thought out.  A reaction typically provokes more reaction and nothing gets accomplished.  We appreciate that the MPRB is now working on a coordinated plan with Hennepin County and the City to help people living in the encampments find more dignified housing before winter.

Again, thank you participating in our board meeting.  We wish the MPRB, the City and Hennepin County well as you work to address this very challenging issue.  We also look forward to staying in communication with you.  If you have any questions regarding this letter, please feel free to contact me at pamelamccrea3@gmail.com or 612-298-7656.

Kind regards,

Pam McCrea, Chair
DMNA Board

cc.Christie Rock Hantge, DMNA Neighborhood Coordinator
DMNA Board of Directors
DMNA Land Use Committee
Ward 3 Council Member Steve Fletcher