Homeless encampments remained in at least three parks in Minneapolis as of last week, despite the Park Board's repeated intentions to disband them when freezing weather returned.
Park Board officials are worried that the number of tents in the parks are rising once again after a steady decline in the fall.
"We are concerned about the increased number of tents in parks and for the ongoing use of fires and propane at the encampments, which pose a significant safety risk," Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura said during a Park Board meeting Wednesday.
The encampments are at Minnehaha Regional Park, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park and the Mall, a park along the Midtown Greenway in Uptown. The three encampments account for 53 tents, up from the 37 that were counted on Nov. 18, Bangoura said.
Encampments have been in city parks since the summer, when people began moving to Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis after the uprising following the killing of George Floyd. They spread to more than 40 park sites during the summer, after which the Park Board voted to reduce the number of permitted sites where people could stay.
Having encampments during the winter could result in tent fires from people using propane and setting bonfires, Bangoura said. It happened at the Mall twice and at an encampment in St. Paul last week, when a recreational vehicle parked at the encampment caught fire.
Last week, outreach workers asked encampment residents if they were interested in five shelter beds that were available, Bangoura said. Residents at all three encampments said no.
"It is extremely concerning that most of our offers over the last two months have been declined by those living in the parks," Bangoura said, adding that Hennepin County would not hold more beds that week because of the cold and existing demand.
Earlier, Park Board officials had signaled that the encampments would be cleared by October before the freezing weather returned. Most of them have been disbanded, with some dwellers going to shelters, hotels or pitching their tents elsewhere.
New shelters are expected to open this month, including beds for Native Americans near the Franklin Avenue light-rail station and inside the Strong Tower Parish in northeast Minneapolis. Another community made up of 100 tiny houses inside a North Loop warehouse will be operated by homeless outreach nonprofit Avivo and is expected to open by the end of the year.
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753