MINNEAPOLIS — On Wednesday night the Minneapolis park board voted unanimously to limit the size of tent encampments that have been present in some parks for weeks.
This comes after the board voted weeks ago to let the tent encampments in places like Powderhorn Park function as they were.
The vote last night was difficult for some park board members, one of those members is Londel French.
He had a conversation with Jana today about why.
“Powderhorn became a beacon for folks who were experiencing unshelteredness. Resources were here, it had a sense of community, unsheltered folks gravitated here, and no one planned for us to have 300 people in our parks,” French said.
Part of figuring it out for French was being in it, he volunteered many days in the park.
“I don't know what else to do. I mean sitting making phone calls all day long, talking to other elected (people), that's one way to get the job done, but I think sometimes when folks see all types of folks, many hands make light work and it doesn't matter whose hands they belong to right? It's my neighborhood,” French said.
“To the folks who are living here, who are unsheltered, its home. Its where they have called home for the last 4 weeks or so. To the people in the neighborhood, residents who have never experienced this stuff I think it’s traumatizing to those folks, something they never had to witness and experience.”
By this past week it was no longer an either or for French or the parks board. It couldn’t keep meeting the needs of the folks living in the camps and answer the calls for help to the folks who live in the neighborhood of the camps.
“You have folks who have invested in homes who really are having a hard time watching the neighborhood that they care about change, change dramatically and a lot were for it in the beginning and volunteered, but I think it became too much for them,” French said.
What was it that became too much?
“The ancillary issues that came with homeless encampments. The crime, the drug use. That became too much,” French said.
About the park board to lessen the camps, French said:
“Doesn't make me feel good. Doesn't make me feel good that we are asking people to leave when they don't really have a secure place to go to. They are leaving this place to go to another place that's maybe safer, smaller but still unsheltered … I’m having a hard time with that,” French said.
French, in all the days he was in Powderhorn helping says he knows what he saw. That the realities of every person living here, aren't just one reality.
“You got people who also work every day. I watched people get up go to work everyday [to] volunteer at encampments and then go to sleep and go to work every day. People in these tents. There are people here who go to work every day. Everyday. They just don't have enough to pay for a house,” French said.
So what now?
French says he hopes the city, county and state help people find what they need, but that in the meantime for those of us who have no idea what it’s really like to live unsheltered, think long and hard about how we approach the issue.
“We look at the reasons why people are homeless as a moral failure sometimes … and it gives people the ability to just write them off and say no, if you just did what I was doing you would have a house like me, or a job like me and that’s not always true. It’s easy to dismiss people when you can say that the reason is they are making bad choices ... and I think the reason people are here is situations, not choices, for the most part,” French said.