Minneapolis park police and Park Board staffers on Friday cleared the remaining encampment in Powderhorn Park, removing the last of about 35 tents pitched on the west end of the park.
Park officials had given people at the south Minneapolis camp two weeks to leave, offering transportation to shelters and other city parks where encampments are still permitted.
“Efforts to get them to move were not successful,” said Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers. “We had to clear out the park because of problems with crime and drugs. And encampments cannot be in safe school zones.”
The scene at the park was tense Friday morning as protesters honked horns and shouted and swore at park police. Some attempted to block squad cars as officers left the scene, and park police used pepper spray on a few demonstrators, according to witnesses.
“It’s like [the protesters] were seeking confrontation,” said Chris Thompson, who has lived near the park for seven years. “They don’t want solutions to difficult problems.”
Thompson said he supported the Park Board’s decision to clear the encampment in the wake of several sexual assaults, gun violence and drug-related crimes that have been reported there in recent weeks.
“It’s not safe for anybody,” he said. “They did what they needed to do.”
The encampments have emerged as a thorny political issue in Minneapolis as city leaders try to balance the desires to care for a vulnerable population against growing neighborhood concerns over crime and unsafe conditions, especially at Powderhorn.
City officials spent much of the afternoon trying to distance themselves from social media criticism of the encampment breakup, particularly because the park department uniforms look nearly identical to city police.
Minneapolis police were not involved in the enforcement action, said police spokesman John Elder. A Minneapolis police lieutenant was on scene in an advisory role, but no officers were involved.
By late Friday morning, 98% of the tents, trash and needles at Powderhorn Park had been cleaned up, Sommers said. Two people protesting Friday’s removal had been arrested, she said.
The Park Board passed a resolution July 15 that disqualified Powderhorn Park from serving as an encampment because it is in a safe school zone. The board limited the number of parks available for temporary encampments to 20, and the number of tents per encampment to 25.
The resolution also required a permit for each encampment and gave Park Superintendent Al Bangoura authority to close encampments when there is a documented threat to people’s health and safety.
This week, the Park Board cleared encampments at Elliot Park and Kenwood Park out of ongoing safety concerns, Sommers said.
The camps at Powderhorn Park had grown to an estimated 560 tents by July 9. Authorities cleared the park’s east side encampments between July 18 and 20, causing many to leave.
Notices were served July 31 to those living in 65 tents on the west side of Powderhorn and elsewhere in the park, Sommers said.
Encampments began growing in parks across Minneapolis in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd on May 25. There were 38 known encampments and 413 tents as of last week, park officials said.
Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order this spring related to the coronavirus that prevented the removal of people from locations such as parks except in specific cases. State officials later said local jurisdictions had the responsibility for determining the size of encampments.
The use of park police to evict campers was the last strategy, Bangoura said in a statement.
“Park staff have been spending significant time and resources to address the influx of hundreds of unhoused people who have been living in temporary park encampments since this spring,” he said. “We need safe parks for everyone, and having encampments in parks creates unsafe conditions for many of those living in the parks, those visiting the parks, and those living near the parks.”
Maggie Rozycki said she had not given homelessness much thought until tents sprouted up in the park near her home. She stopped by Friday to deliver food to campers and was surprised to see police tossing items in dumpsters.
Homelessness is “a crisis,” she said. “We are called to do something.”
Sommers said the situation highlights a larger problem: People camping in parks need state and county services and a place to live, especially with colder weather on the horizon.
“Parks are not a dignified place of shelter,” Sommers said. “They need services, and parks cannot provide that.”
Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano, whose Ninth Ward includes the Powderhorn neighborhood, agreed.
“The situation that has been created at the west encampment is not safe, sustainable, or healthy for both unhoused and housed residents,” Cano wrote in a letter to the community. “I and many other city leaders remain committed to fighting for dignified housing for all.”
Cano has scheduled a virtual community conversation for Sunday evening.
Staff photographer David Joles contributed to this report.