Parks and Power demands an end to camp evictions

A small encampment of tents sits at the edge of East Harriet Farmstead Park, near the stately Theodore Wirth House and Administrative Building sits. In front of the historic building, holding photographs of a park police clearing tents in Powderhorn Park, activists from Parks and Power, a social justice organization seeking racial equity in the Minneapolis parks system, held a press conference on Wednesday, Aug. 19 condemning the evictions of campers in Minneapolis parks last Friday, Aug. 14.

Among the speakers was Nadine Little, a homeless woman who was facing legal charges for protesting. 

“I’m homeless,” Little said. “The encampment I was in got torn down. Tonight I’m in a hotel, tomorrow, I don’t know where I’m gonna be.” 

Nadine Little. Photo by Sheila Regan.

At Wednesday’s press conference, organizers from Parks and Power demanded an end to evictions of campers in Minneapolis parks, as well as a call for permanent housing solutions for the unhoused people in the parks. 

“It hurts my heart what’s going on with everyone that’s homeless. We should not be homeless. We didn’t ask to be homeless,” Little said. “It just hurts me that we have to be put like this.” 

Jay Apollo said they got arrested earlier this week, on Monday, August 17, after staying in the camp for a week and a half. Apollo had used their megaphone to speak out about the park being on stolen land, which they say got them arrested. 

“I took out my megaphone, I started to speak out about it,” Apollo said. “And that got me arrested. I got another friend of mine arrested as well. But the thing is, I don’t get is where do they expect us to go?” 

Jay Apollo. Photo by Sheila Regan.

According to Apollo, park police don’t see unhoused people as human beings. 

“The thing that people don’t understand is that we’re not leaving,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere. Because we have so much to live for. We’re fighting for the fact that we want to live our best life.” 

Among the volunteers that spoke at the press conference was Bilal Murad, an interventional cardiologist at Allina Health who also runs two nonprofits— Rahma, which provides health care for uninsured, undocumented immigrants, and Zacah, which provides financial assistance for people living with homelessness. 

Murad has visited sanctuary site at Powderhorn Park several times as well as other encampments in the Twin Cities. He said the park board’s evictions of homeless campers contradicted the tenant of “do no harm, especially during COVID-19., which has amplified the already existent healthcare disparities. 

 “About a month ago, I met a young man at Powderhorn experiencing heart rhythm disorder, who was clearly in congestive heart failure short of breath while he was talking to me,” he said. 

“He was belong to the Allina system, so I was able to access medical records and set up an appointment for him to be seen by a cardiologist within our system.” 

Murad also saw a young woman with colon cancer, who was in dire need of having her colostomy bag changed, as well as patients with eye infections, trauma, and infected wounds, and broken limbs. 

“But here’s the problem. I have no idea what any of these individuals are at this time,” he said. “Because every time we try and do something they get displaced. If anyone dies, they will become an invisible statistic preventable death that will be on our shoulders. I understand that providing harm and shelter is not within the purview of the party. But first, do no harm.”

At the end of the press conference, activists put eviction notices, complete with their demands on the front door of the Theodore Wirth Home and Administration Building 1. 

On August 14, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board posted a statement about clearing 35 tents from Powderhorn Park. 

“There have been significant crime and safety incidents at Powderhorn Park and the encampments with the park are within a safe school zone, which is not allowed per a resolution unanimously adopted by Park Board Commissioners on July 15,” the statement read. “Encampments in Powderhorn Park had grown to an estimated 560 tents by July 9. The MPRB cleared the Powderhorn east encampments July 18-20 with notices served and removal of the encampment. Many people continued leaving the park after the east encampment was vacated. Notices of transition were served July 31 to those living in 65 tents at the Powderhorn west encampment and elsewhere in the park.”

Meanwhile, Superintendent Al Bangoura, spoke at a MPRB Board meeting on Wednesday, August 19, denying the narrative put forward by Parks and Power. Bangoura’s statement, which was the first part of a staff presentation, said there was not undue force against protesters. 

“I know our Park Police officers responded professionally and demonstrated admirable restraint,” Bangoura’s statement reads. “They did not create the issue of encampments within parks, but they are working hard to restore parks to their intended use and ensure safety for those who use them.”

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