BY KAY SCHROVEN
Powderhorn is not the only neighborhood in the Twin Cities recovering from a unique summer, but surely we’ve had our share of challenges: protests/riots, destruction, violence, including the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the MPD, unemployment and hundreds of unsheltered neighbors living in beautiful Powderhorn Park (PHP)—all under the umbrella of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Labor Day is upon us and fall sets in, we might ask ourselves and one another, how do we recover? How do we make things better?
Tabitha Montgomery, executive director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Assoc. (PPNA), has a bird’s eye view and insight with five productive and contributory years in her position. Her focus is on the health of the individuals and the community. Tabitha and the PPNA viewed the PHP encampment as a crisis, and the organization treated it as such, informally involved, providing resources. Tabitha points out that even when housing is obtained, if the person living in the house is not well, they may not be able to hang on to their housing. If our community learned anything from the summer encampments in the park it is this: The issues related to homelessness are multi-layered and solutions must be addressed system wide, including a focus on health. “Riding the train all night to stay out of the Minnesota cold is not a solution.” Now that the unsheltered residents are gone from PHP, where did they go? Where is the follow-up? The roles and responsibilities of the city, county and state with respect to homelessness and housing remain fuzzy.
PPNA is open to working with groups such as the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and the Powderhorn Safety Collective (PSC). These groups are known as “Interrupters.” The OVP, directed by Sasha Cotton, is a newly created group of outreach workers (coaches, teachers, individuals with gang and gang violence experience, etc.) placed into neighborhoods to settle disputes and help those most at risk. The approach is de-escalation and reconciliation. This group views violence as a public health crisis. Thirty-five percent of city homicides (to date, 2020) occurred in the 3rd Precinct vs. 21 percent in 2019. With nearly 300 shootings and 49 homicides in Minneapolis as of 8/25/20, this is hard to deny.
The Powderhorn Safety Collective is a group of volunteers who sign up for time slots, then patrol the neighborhood on foot or bicycle. You can identify them by their high-resolution vests. Their goal is to strengthen the fabric of the neighborhood with respect to safety, rather than involving the police, with a focus on relationships, not division. Tabitha believes that the staffing and training of those who patrol and service the neighborhood is key. “Not everyone is skilled dealing with mental health issues and crises.” How are individuals selected? Prepared? Who is armed? Who can disarm? She’d like to see the efforts start small and grow, learning along the way and making incremental gains. She also points out that it is important how the service is communicated to the neighborhood residents. What are the services? Who is providing them? How do we access and utilize them effectively? (email@example.com)
When asked if Tabitha is finding support from the city regarding crime in the Powderhorn neighborhood she points out that while she sees no ill intent, the resources are not in the right places. “Defunding the police means putting resources in the right places. There are not enough resources allocated for prevention. The focus is on law enforcement, courts, judgment and corrective action.” In other words, resources do not kick in until there is a crime or a crisis, which is too late. In July, the Minneapolis City Council approved a revised version of Mayor Frey’s 2020 city budget, which includes more than a $1 million in cuts to the MPD. These reallocated funds are to be utilized in part by the City’s Office of Violence Protection, while still preserving some police services. “This is a great time to define what is needed and wanted, rather than what is not needed or wanted.”