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Minneapolis park space to be allowed as place of refuge for homeless

The decision comes after a vote by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.

MINNEAPOLIS — With a humanitarian situation growing in the wake of unrest in the last several weeks, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) voted in favor of allowing city park spaces to be places of refuge for the growing population of homeless individuals.

According to Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers, the board passed resolution 2020-253 Wednesday night, declaring MPRB's commitment "to provide refuge space to people currently experiencing homelessness while continuing to work with local and state organizations to identify long-term housing solutions for people at the Powderhorn encampment and others throughout the city."

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By the board's estimates, an encampment at Powderhorn Park alone has grown in size to nearly 200 tents, from just a handful roughly a week ago. 

Board Superintendent Al Bangoura says it was quickly understood by the morning of June 12 that an initial 72-hour window to find a solution for the homeless at Powderhorn Park was not sufficient. This was after conversations with health and human service agencies and park commissioners highlighted a lack of time in order to find adequate resources. 

Since then, he says park staff have provided a variety of services to help aid those within the camp, such as adding additional portable restrooms, opening a standalone restroom at Powderhorn Park, deploying a mobile shower trailer, providing running water and electricity, and providing waste receptacles, all with hopes that the board can work a deal with the city to provide daily trash collection on-site.

Regardless of these efforts, the superintendent stresses that MPRB does not have the resources or the training necessary to go it alone. 

"I am in daily dialogue with city and county health and human service leaders. As you know, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board does not have staff adequately trained to fully serve the needs of a homeless population. City, county and state agencies as well as non-profit providers have staff resources more fully aligned with the needs of that specialized population. Currently there are 102 known encampments throughout the city. Though the majority are small, there are two other locations with more than 50 tents: The Greenway between 12th and 14th and 13th Ave and 24th St," Bangoura said in his remarks to the board.

As of Tuesday, the City of Minneapolis Health Department was at the location of the Powderhorn encampment to provide additional guidance for a path forward, according to the superintendent. 

"The level of physical care required of encampments and associated facilities is beyond the capacity of park staff. Special circumstances related to COVID-19 suggest that extraordinary maintenance may be required for some facilities. The MPRB will rely upon guidance from the City of Minneapolis Health Department to determine cleaning schedules for facilities based on objective public health standards correlated to the encampment’s population," the superintendent said. 

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