MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The head of the Minneapolis Park system says he needs some help as more parks are turning into temporary homeless shelters.

The latest data shows there are an estimated 431 tents at 42 parks.  One of the latest growing encampments is in Loring Park. Park Board data lists the downtown park as a “trouble spot” as assaults have spiked.

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Another encampment, by Lake Harriet, is also growing.

“I wanted the rich to get in on this and I heard this was one of the richest sites in Minnesota and so purposely came over here to get their support, and boy have I got it,” said Michelle Smith, a Lake Harriet Encampment Volunteer.

Smith runs the encampment. Although there are encampments all over the city, Smith’s is one of four permitted camps in the city. She does not allow drug use or violence.

Though Smith says her camp has been flooded with donations and visitors, others worry it could become out-of-hand like the Powderhorn encampment.

The administration at the Minneapolis Park Board said the reason it got to the point of tents in parks is because of an executive order by Gov. Tim Walz back in March. They say the order not to evict plus the vote by the park board to make parks an area of refuge has put them in a situation they aren’t equipped to handle.

Superintendent Al Bangoura said, “We know that the Park Board is not the agency to solve the homeless crisis in Minneapolis, and sheltering homeless people temporarily in Minneapolis parks is not a safe, proper, or dignified form of housing.”

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While shelters are in the works, park staff and others are asking the city, county, and state to provide immediate housing as they think of the oncoming Minnesota winter.

Bangoura says his team is working to fulfill the park board’s latest resolution to limit encampments to 20 parks, with no more than 25 tents each.

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WCCO asked Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey about what the city is doing for people who are living in the streets. On Thursday, he said, “the city is working on a number of different initiatives, first based on harm reduction in and throughout our unsheltered homeless population; making sure they’re protected from COVID-19, that the areas are safe, that there are health and sanitary and cleanliness stations set up.”

The mayor says in the medium term, they plan to open shelters in the next year. A culturally sensitive shelter built around the Native community should be open by Dec. 1. A women’s shelter in north Minneapolis is planned for the first quarter of next year. A project is in the works with Catholic Charities for people needing hospice care or mental health assistance.

In the longer term, Frey says the city continues to work on stable and affordable housing.

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To read the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s encampment update, click here.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield