Park officials remove remainder of Powderhorn east encampment after most people leave

Squad is arrested by Minneapolis Park Police outside his tent.
A Powderhorn encampment resident who referred to himself as Squad is arrested by park police outside his tent at the east Powderhorn encampment. On Monday, the east camp was cleared by Minneapolis and park police, as well as the city's park board contractors. Many residents had sought shelter elsewhere over the weekend at different parks.
Ben Hovland for MPR News

A sprawling homeless encampment that had hundreds of tents at its peak is gone from Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. Sanitation workers hauled away the last few tents Monday, and park police arrested about 20 people, residents and activists who refused to leave.

"All occupants of the east encampment left except for two to three people, who refused to leave, when a couple dozen people showed up. Approximately 20 people were arrested,” said Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spokesperson Dawn Sommers.

Among the several hundred people who once lived at the Powderhorn encampment, Rae — who’s three months pregnant and asked that only her middle name be used — said on several occasions her ex-boyfriend chased her around with a knife. She said she got no help from the volunteer security staff at the camp, and the police response was slow.

“The security guards weren’t doing their jobs,” Rae said. “I shouldn’t have had to run around out here for 20, 25 minutes until the police finally chose to show up.”

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A person breaks down a tent in a park.
Rodney Cooper breaks down his tent Monday as he moves his belongings out of the encampment at Powderhorn Park. "This is disheartening," said Cooper, who was hoping to find permanent housing before leaving the encampment where he'd been living for more than a month.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Park police reported last week that they had responded to similar incidents nearly every day at Powderhorn. Besides cases of domestic violence, there were multiple sexual assaults; at least two of the victims were juveniles. Early last week a man was kidnapped at knifepoint and forced to withdraw money from an ATM.

People began moving to Powderhorn Park six weeks ago. Many of the first residents of the encampment on the park’s eastern edge had moved there from the Midtown Sheraton hotel. For about 10 days, the building served as a makeshift, volunteer-run shelter amid the unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd in May.

The encampment grew after the Park Board voted June 17 to allow city parks to be used as “refuge space to people currently experiencing homelessness.”

Claudia Bruber, who lives across from the park, said commissioners did not consider all the ramifications of that decision. 

“Almost everybody who’s in government right now is not thinking through the unintended outcomes of what they do,” Bruber said. “Think this through before you just emotionally put something out there.”

Still, as her neighbors pick up debris, including a syringe and needle, Bruber said she has mixed feelings about the encampment being cleared. She’s glad to see an end to the traffic at all hours, frequent drug overdoses and gunfire. At the same time, she’s concerned for the former park residents who’ve been displaced.

Lily Lamb lives across from the park and volunteered at the encampment. As she sat on her porch, Lamb said the fact that the encampment grew so large so quickly is indicative of major systemic failures. She said elected officials would have responded in an instant had this been a natural disaster.

“If you had a tornado, in which 500 people were unsheltered, there would be a response. There would be FEMA, there would be the Red Cross, there would be some sort of coordinated response to help address people in their needs for shelter, in their needs for water, in their needs for food. And we didn’t see that at any level,” Lamb said.

For now, the park board is allowing several dozen other park encampments to remain, including one on the west side of Powderhorn Park.

As they appear elsewhere in the city, Lamb said neighbors should treat the residents with compassion, help meet their basic needs, and lobby policymakers to address the root causes of homelessness, particularly the lack of affordable housing.