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Hope Academy says nearby homeless encampment is a safety concern for students

The Head of School says they are not allowing students to use the nearby park for recess, because of the homeless encampment.

MINNEAPOLIS — With school back in session at Hope Academy, students would normally spend their recess time on the playground at Peavey Park, which is right next to the nonprofit K-12 school.  

But that isn't happening.

On the other side of the playground at Peavey, there is now a homeless encampment, one of many which have settled at Minneapolis parks this summer

Hope Academy's Head of School, Russ Gregg, says along with the encampment, he's witnessed violence and drug paraphernalia. 

"Yesterday there was a person wielding a knife next to where we were distributing devices to students for the online learning," he said.

Normally, students at the school would use the park's playground for recess and its soccer fields for practice and home games. Gregg says neither are happening right now, because of safety concerns related to the encampment. 

"We’re wanting to see a long-term solution for the homeless, and at the same time, to preserve the use of the playground and park for neighborhood children," said Gregg. "Locating an encampment next to a school with hundreds of children is not the best place."

Gregg wants the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to uphold a resolution it adopted during its July 15 meeting, which would not allow encampments near schools. 

MPRB Superintendent Al Bangoura said the MPRB issued notices to vacate on August 10 to the people living in the approximately 12 tents at Peavey Park. He said Hennepin County and outreach staff offered transportation to other locations before the MPRB attempted to clear the encampment. However, when staff attempted to clear the encampment, they were "attacked" by protestors at the park, according to remarks made by Bangoura during a MPRB meeting Wednesday evening. 

"An estimated 100 protestors amassed on site to “defend” the encampment. When a park staff member arrived at Peavey Park that morning [August 12], they were attacked by protestors who climbed onto his vehicle and equipment," Bangoura said during his remarks at the meeting. 

MPRB spokesperson Dawn Sommers told KARE 11 that some at the park were throwing things at officers and threatening staff. 

The MPRB has since "deescalated and backed away from conflict" at the park to avoid adding to the civil unrest in the city, according to Bangoura. 

Bangoura says the site now has 30 tents, including those belonging to advocates and protestors. He said the MPRB is still seeking "peaceful disbandment of the camp, with law enforcement used as a last resort."

But Hope Academy started its school year Wednesday, well past the July 15 meeting during which the MPRB passed its resolution regarding encampments near schools. 

"So here we are 45 days later and the children are not able to use the park," Gregg said.

People who identified themselves as volunteers at the Peavey encampment defend it, saying any violence nearby isn't coming from them. 

"This corner was dangerous before the encampments were here, before the tents were here," said a man who identified himself as Devin to KARE 11, but declined to give his last name. "The people who are living here lived here long before there were tents here. [They] slept on the ground in the park. The only thing removing the tents is going to do is make them less safe again."

Because of its location next to Hope Academy, Peavey Park is not one of the 15 park sites permitted by MPRB for an encampment. But those at the park say there are few other places to go. The MPRB says currently all 15 permitted sites are at capacity. 

"We're aware encampments are a temporary solution, but the city is not providing enough resources, resources for permanent solutions," Devin said. 

David Hewitt, Director of Hennepin County's Office to End Homelessness, told KARE 11 Wednesday that about 40 to 50 of the county's private rooms for families experiencing homelessness go unused at night. He says of the 80 to 100 spots available for single adults to reserve every morning, about 35 remained unclaimed the night of September 1. Hewitt says both those vacancy numbers have been consistent over the last two months. 

Bangoura said the need to transition people to shelter space is "critical." In part because the permitted encampments are full and because cold weather will soon be here. 

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