Minneapolis Park Board to consider resolution providing guidelines for park encampments

At their Wednesday, July 15, Board meeting, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) Commissioners will vote to amend a resolution the Board adopted on June 17 related to providing refuge space to people experiencing homelessness while the MPRB continued to work with state, county, city and non-profit organizations to identify solutions for people at the Powderhorn Park encampment and others throughout the city. If approved on Wednesday, the new resolution will limit the total number parks available for temporary encampments and provide direction for the design and facilitation of temporary encampments in parks that supports the health and safety of individuals experiencing homelessness and preserves access to recreation features for park visitors.

As of Thursday, July 9, encampments have been established at 38 parks, including two large encampments at Powderhorn Park where there are approximately 560 tents and 282 people living at the encampments.

“The resolution clarifies our commitment to providing refuge and also provide guidelines for park encampments,” said Jono Cowgill, Board President. “We have not wavered in our belief that the people who are living in park spaces right now need to be treated with dignity. The size of the encampment at Powderhorn Park is not sustainable and we need to provide guidance on park encampment design and facilitation that supports the health and safety of those currently living in the parks.”

The proposed resolution limits the number of parks with encampments to 20, the number of tents per encampment to 25, and establishes a new temporary encampment permit that can be issued to an individual volunteer, volunteers, non-profit corporation, legal entity, government or non-governmental partner or agency who agrees to be responsible for the day-to-day oversight and regulation of an encampment. The MPRB would provide restrooms or portable toilets, hand washing stations (as vendor supplies allow), and trash/recycling containers to a permitted encampment within 48 hours of issuing a permit.

“We are incredibly grateful that encampments in our parks are being serviced by non-profit entities and volunteers, and that the services offered by those non-profit entities and volunteers will be critical to the continued service to encampments in Minneapolis parks,” said Cowgill.

The resolution also directs staff to formally request assistance from agencies and organizations that have clear and defined responsibility for addressing homelessness.

“COVID-19 has created a health, economic, unemployment and homeless crisis in Minneapolis and across the nation,” said Al Bangoura, Superintendent. “We know that sheltering homeless people temporarily in Minneapolis parks is not a safe, proper or dignified form of housing. We will continue to work with city, county and state agencies on solutions, so that those in park encampments have accommodations before cold weather arrives.”

Executive Orders 20-33 and 20-55 declared a peacetime emergency that prevented the removal of homeless people from locations except in certain specific cases subject to certain specific requirements. The MPRB has been working with city, county and state health and human service leaders to address the needs of those in park encampments. On June 27 the State of Minnesota clarified directives of Executive Order 20-55 and the state provided subsequent explicit guidelines that local jurisdictions shall have the sole responsibility for determining the size of encampments allowed under Executive Order 20-55 and that limitations on encampment size, when documented by the local jurisdiction, would be considered aligned with Executive Order 20-55.

The resolution sets a goal of September 15 for park staff to update the Board on progress toward moving encampment occupants into shelter and housing suitable for winter conditions.