Powderhorn Park neighborhood residents want a solution to homeless encampments by Friday

By: - June 17, 2020 7:30 am

Tabitha Montgomery, executive director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, implored her neighbors to continuously agitate for change in their community. “Our best work, our most sincere work, is what we do when we’re not in crisis,” Montgomery said. Photo by Hannah Black/Minnesota Reformer.

Tresa Kier is one of about 100 people who have moved into a homeless encampment in Powderhorn Park after officials shut down a nearby former Sheraton hotel, which volunteers had turned into a shelter.

For now, Kier is content sleeping in her small, one-person tent in the park. She said she’s looking forward to getting a toothbrush and some deodorant from one of the community organizations that now have a presence in the encampment.

But a collection of Powderhorn neighborhood residents are calling on Minneapolis, county and state elected officials to come up with a long term plan to house Minnesotans like Kier and her neighbors in the encampment. And they want it to happen by Friday.

“It is outrageous that a governing body is moving and displacing unhoused folks and depositing them in an unsupported environment with the expectation that neighbors will voluntarily take care of them,” said Lily Lamb, who said she’s a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “That’s outrageous.”

The encampment started and then grew after scores of people experiencing homelessness and temporarily living in the former Sheraton in south Minneapolis were evicted from the building, as volunteers gave them tents and sleeping bags and directed them to the nearby park. 

Lamb and a small group of residents organized a meeting Tuesday evening to challenge officials to come up with a plan for housing.

About 150 people gathered at the south end of the park, sitting on the grass and at picnic tables, and listened to impassioned speakers from groups like Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association and Freedom from the Streets. Lamb began the meeting by reading from what she called a “neighborhood statement,” which said Powderhorn residents stand with people experiencing homelessness in their neighborhood and consider housing a human right.

“We demand to know our elected officials’ response to the emergency humanitarian situation in Powderhorn Park currently, and seek a solution immediately with dignified, culturally-informed, permanent housing by Friday, June 19,” the statement read.

Lamb compared the situation to a natural disaster during a Reformer interview.

“If a flood happens or a tornado happens and people are impacted and directly harmed, the state, the city, the county respond appropriately,” she said.

That response isn’t happening. Though a patchwork of outreach groups currently provide food, basic health care and security, Powderhorn residents say the camp is still lacking basic sanitation, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Nearly a week after people began setting up tents in the park, volunteers are still trying to get portable restrooms delivered.

Lamb said she has personally emailed 70 public officials, including those from various city, county and state departments. Three elected officials attended the meeting: Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioners Chris Meyer and AK Hassan and Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley. Park Commissioner Londel French, whose district includes Powderhorn Park, has been on-site the past few days and was advocating for water access for the camp, she said.

Park board commissioners say they will discuss options for the encampment during a regularly-scheduled meeting Wednesday.

For now, Kier is comfortable staying in the park and said her outlook is positive, but she’s worried the people living in Powderhorn Park will soon be displaced once again, repeating a frequent pattern for people who are homeless. 

“Hopefully we stay together this time,” she said.

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Hannah Black

Hannah Black is a freelance journalist in the Twin Cities. Most recently she covered city government, public safety and business for an east metro newspaper.