The dwindling population of the last homeless encampment in a Minneapolis park has limited time to pack up, even as the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board began clearing the site.
As the sun rose Tuesday over Minnehaha Regional Park, a backhoe and a Bobcat scooped up trash and uninhabited tents from the encampment just off Hiawatha Avenue. After the Park Board issued a Dec. 31 order to leave within three days, people living there had expected the camp to be disbanded Tuesday.
Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said eight people are still living at the camp. The Park Board is trying to accommodate the request of volunteers for more time to help relocate people, Sommers said.
"We are aware that they are working very diligently to help move folks out of the encampment," Sommers said of the volunteers, some of whom helped guide cleanup crews Tuesday morning to ensure belongings weren't scooped up.
The Park Board, which has disbanded a number of encampments around the city, says the Minnehaha encampment isn't safe. In the letter to inhabitants, Superintendent Al Bangoura said the board's concerns include low temperatures, fires, overdoses and violence — as well as the encampment's growing size.
Sommers said the Minnehaha Park site is the only remaining encampment in the city's park system.
The tightknit community living at the park was shaken over the weekend by the discovery of a man's body — which had "experienced obvious trauma" — in one of the tents.
"I don't want that happening to none of my family here," inhabitant Angel Prince said Monday. "It's scary."
Prince, who has lived at the encampment for three weeks, said she was going to one of the hotels housing homeless residents — a temporary solution.
"I'm hoping to find housing," Prince said. "I do not want to spend the rest of my days in a tent."
Kelly Gwin, who was packing up her things on Monday, also said she had secured temporary shelter at a hotel room. But she said she would rather sleep "under a bush" than go to a shelter, in part because she has heard about women being sexually assaulted there.
"You have to be out by a certain time. You have to be in by a certain time," Gwin said. "You can't bring your personal items. What are we supposed to do with this stuff? This is our home."
Gwin, who has lived at the encampment since July, said it has become like a family.
"Nobody's out here breaking rules," Gwin said. "We're not having fires. We're not causing problems out here. [Disbanding it] doesn't make any sense to any of us."
Katie Francis with Southside Harm Reduction Services was performing HIV testing and needle exchanges at the encampment Monday afternoon. She said some residents are moving to a different park in northeast Minneapolis, while a couple have been accepted to hotels.
She said each time an encampment is disbanded, it disrupts connections inhabitants have with social service entities — as well as volunteers like those bringing propane for heaters at the Minnehaha site.
"Everybody wants stability. Stability does equal safety," Francis said. "And when you do this, you're taking that away."
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732