MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- With record cold temperatures ahead, the rush is on to help the Twin Cities homeless community. In Minneapolis, there are currently seven permitted temporary encampments with 105 tents total among those seven sites. There are several encampments in St. Paul as well.
Rob Thomas lives at the encampment in Minnehaha Falls Park in South Minneapolis, where snow is still all over the ground.
"It was quite shocking, a lot of us weren't really prepared for the snow," said Thomas.
Those living in these tents are using propane fueled heaters to stay warm and sleeping on pallets to keep their sleep bags off the cold ground and dry.
"Staying in a tent, being outside, not having that assurance that you have that place to go that's warm and safe, it can be scary and very stressful sometimes," said Thomas.
Thomas has lived here since August, when the park was at max capacity with 25 tents. Now, this encampment is much smaller.
"Emptiness means that people are finding homes and getting off the streets," said Thomas.
Thomas is hopeful he will soon move to temporary housing at a shelter or hotel. It's an effort done almost entirely by volunteers placing un-housed people in warm, clean and safe spaces.
"They've been helping with getting insurance, general assistance, housing, finding cell phones, trying to help us find jobs, relocate us," said Thomas.
Janet Schmitt is a retired physician volunteering her time at the South Minneapolis encampments. With temperatures expected to drop into the teens at night next week, she says the need support to keep everyone warm and safe. She encourages people to take the time to make connections with those living in these encampments, as well as leading them, to help.
"You're driving along and you see a connection of tents here and tents there, don't be afraid to go and talk to people," said Schmitt, "Just good of heart people just coming and dumping off stuff, it's not organized enough. It really needs to come through volunteers who know what's needed, what isn't needed."
While Thomas holds out for a home, he's showing gratitude for the place that's been his home.
"That's what I'm working on right now, trying to clean up the area, so that when we do leave, it's not a disaster area," said Thomas, "and just be respectful of the things we've been given this year."
The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) tell WCCO they have been working closely for many weeks with unsheltered people in park encampments, community groups and local service agencies to find shelter for those in the parks.
MPRB said in a statement to WCCO:
The MPRB has consistently acknowledged that parks do not provide dignified shelter. The MPRB has worked the last five months with state, county, city, and social service organizations to find safe shelter and for people experiencing homelessness in park encampments before cold weather settles in. Winter has now come to Minnesota and fires and propane are not allowed in Minneapolis parks. Camping in parks now is simply not humane or safe. Three people have already died at homeless encampments in Minneapolis this year.
All MPRB actions and efforts have been shared publicly and have been shared online at www.minneapolisparks.org/encampments.
Get Connected To A Shelter In Hennepin County:
Single adults: Call Adult Shelter Connect at 612-248-2350.
Families: Call the Hennepin County Family Shelter Team at 612-348-9410. Hennepin County practices a "shelter all" commitment for families.
- Carolyn Marinan, Communications, 612-348-5969
- Jill Mazulo, Minnesota Housing, 651-707-4043
- Sarah McKenzie, City of Minneapolis, 612-396-2201
If you are looking for a community group to donate to that is specially collecting donations for these encampments, check out the follow social media pages below:
- St. Paul Camps Support – Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stpcampshub/
- InvolveMN (Donate meals for encampment sites) - https://www.involvemn.org/take-action
- Twin Cities Mutual Aid Map - https://twin-cities-mutual-aid.org/
- Sanctuary Supply Depot – Instagram: https://twin-cities-mutual-aid.org/
- ZACAH: Zakah, Aid, and Charity Assisting Humanity (Donate for emergency hotel stays) - https://www.zacah.org/copy-of-minneapolis-sanctuary-emerg
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