Park Board clears out Kenwood encampment

The encampment at Kenwood Park
The encampment at Kenwood Park was down to about nine residents when the Minneapolis Park Board cleared out the camp on Aug. 12. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.

Minneapolis park officials have cleared out a homeless encampment at Kenwood Park as the agency moves to implement more restrictive encampment guidelines approved by the board in July.

Kenwood, along with Peavey and Elliot parks, were targeted for removal due to concerns of criminal activity, according to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB). Kenwood and Peavey are also located in school zones, which made the parks incompatible for an encampment under an ordinance approved by commissioners July 15.

The Kenwood Park encampment was down from about 25 residents at the end of July to about nine residents and 14 tents when a notice to vacate was issued on Aug. 11. The people living there were given 24 hours to leave, and the encampment was cleared by about 2 p.m. on Aug. 12, according to volunteers on site that afternoon. By 4 p.m., all that remained were tire tracks and tent-shaped depressions in the ground.

The week was a major removal period for the MPRB, which cleared out the remaining 35 tents at Powderhorn Park on Aug. 14, two weeks after notices to vacate were issued at the site. The encampment at Powderhorn was also located in a school zone and had repeated crime and safety incidents, according to the MPRB. Park Police cleared the encampments in what the Star Tribune described as a tense scene with protesters attempting to block squad cars and officers pepper spraying some demonstrators.

Chris J., a young man who had been staying at Kenwood for about a month since leaving Powderhorn, said on Aug. 10 that he hadn’t seen any violent or dangerous behavior in his time at the Southwest park. Kenwood, he said, had remained small and didn’t have the same issues surrounding security he’d seen at Powderhorn. He was among those living at the former Sheraton hotel in South Minneapolis that was used by unsheltered people during the civil unrest after George Floyd was killed.

In the parks, Chris J. said, it has been good to meet others who struggle with similar issues to his, like bipolar disorder and anxiety. Many living in the parks, he said, have mental or physical health conditions.

On the afternoon of Aug. 12, a few volunteers loaded the last remaining supplies and gear from Kenwood Park into a van. Noah, a volunteer who declined to give his last name, said the removal action at Kenwood was unnecessary and that notice had been given in a confusing way. At other encampments where removal actions have occurred, the Park Board has issued a 48- or 72-hour notice to vacate, he said, but at Kenwood signs were placed Aug. 11 saying the park would no longer be considered a place of refuge by noon on Aug. 12. That language was confusing, he said. The residents at Kenwood had largely left by the time Park Police arrived in the mid-afternoon and no one was arrested.

“People thought they had some stability and it’s been retracted,” he said.

At a Park Board meeting on Aug. 6, Vice President LaTrisha Vetaw (At Large) said she was concerned MPRB staff had not been moving quickly enough to implement the encampment number, size and location restrictions approved by commissioners in July. Constituents had been calling her daily about the encampments at Kenwood, Peavey, Powderhorn and Elliot parks, she said.

“We took action three weeks ago; I need to see results,” she said. “I can’t believe how little has been done.”

The encampment at Kenwood Park began as a direct offshoot of the Powderhorn community and was initially located on the southern edge of the park near Lake of the Isles. The site was eventually moved to the north side of the park. A man was arrested at Kenwood Park for exposing himself in mid-July, according to Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto. On July 14, there were other fights and arrests.

The Kenwood Neighborhood Organization and Park Board President Jono Cowgill, who represents the area, had requested its removal due to safety concerns.

“Our priorities are to address those sites with documented crimes, reduce the number of parks down to no more than 20 and get permits issued for temporary encampments that currently don’t have one. The priority for our state needs to be additional funding for our city and county partners so they can immediately increase available shelter and housing for those experiencing homelessness,” MRPB Superintendent Al Bangoura said in a statement.

In June, park commissioners designated all parkland in the city as a refuge space for unsheltered people, primarily in response to the large encampment at Powderhorn that emerged after the civil unrest. In July, the board retracted that declaration in an ordinance that set a maximum of 20 parks with no more than 25 tents at
each site and established a permit system for encampments. The resolution also prohibits encampments in school zones and limits how much space in a park the tents may occupy. So far only five permits have been issued, three of which are in Southwest at Lake Harriet, William Berry Park and The Mall in Uptown.

Park staff have identified 16 parks the organization believes are suitable for encampments, including Bryn Mawr Meadows, Lyndale Farmstead, and Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. parks in Southwest, all of which have sizable communities. The MPRB estimates there are about 450 tents in 44 parks as of Aug. 11.