University Police,

Sarah McKenzie

A thin, gray tarp is Charlie Buchanan’s only protection from the wind.
The 56-year-old Vietnam veteran from Kentucky lives at a homeless encampment near campus. He has spent the whole winter at one particular site with his feline pet, Alley Cat.
The camp is nestled between a few small trees in a field behind some old warehouse buildings. Milk cartons, food cans and pages torn from a few novels pepper the landscape.
He has a can of antifreeze and some kindling to keep warm.
Buchanan said he prefers his home to life in a crowded shelter. At his camp, he said, he is autonomous.
War stories from Vietnam roll off his tongue with ease. He said he is a decorated soldier and earned a medal after he was wounded in battle in the late 1960s.
Besides keeping track of other friends living in encampments, Buchanan checks in with the University Police every once in awhile.
University Police Sgt. Erik Swanson and Buchanan banter back and forth chummily. Swanson, an officer with the force for four years, said he has known Buchanan as long as he has worked with the department.
Men and women of all ages make up the homeless population around the University. Swanson and other University Police officers often take time out of their day to check up on the people living at the camps. The interaction is usually friendly.
“What’s up Mr. Man?” shouts Swanson from his squad car to Buchanan walking along Fifth Street Southeast near Mariucci Arena.
Swanson pulls over to exchange jests with Buchanan for a few minutes. Buchanan asks for a ride home and hops in the squad car.
He offers Swanson a chance to see his camp and asks the officer to let him stay there without hassle from the police.
Swanson gives him his word.

Offering a helping hand
A red pocketbook published by the Alliance of the Streets, a Minneapolis homeless advocacy group, rests under a sun visor in Swanson’s squad car.
Employees at the advocacy group say they try to arm people with information that is hard to come by in this city, especially if the individual is new to the area.
“There is no need for people to go hungry,” said Tom Logeland, one of the organization’s managers.
Besides making sure homeless people know where to find food, Logeland said the organization helps people secure state identification cards and temporary employment.
Swanson refers to the street guide frequently, offering information to anyone who asks about public assistance or shelters in the area.
Sgt. Jo Anne Benson said one University Police officer used to keep track of the camps. She said he compiled profiles of the men and women as a way to monitor their safety and welfare.
Benson said the stigma attached to the homeless is often inaccurate and unfair. The assumption that the people living at the encampments commit crimes to get by is simply not true, she said.
Sometimes officers serve as liaisons between encampments by relaying messages back and forth.
The number of camps around the University fluctuates throughout the year, Swanson said. During the winter months, three or four camps typically occupy the outskirts of campus, with anywhere from one to six people occupying each.
Housing bureaucracy
Some University Police officers take pride in their relationship with the homeless.
“They tell us we treat them a lot better than the Minneapolis police do,” said University Police Officer Mark Pearson. “They have a habit of tearing down their camps.”
Swanson, who used to work at a homeless shelter in south Minneapolis, said he doesn’t see the point in destroying the camps.
Although he wonders how they can manage outside during the long, harsh winters, he doesn’t blame them for being skeptical of residing in the shelters.
Crowded conditions at the shelters can compromise one’s privacy, he said. Sometimes people have to jump over hurdles in order to land a spot in a shelter for the night, Swanson added.
“There really isn’t a lot of public space for the homeless,” he said.
Regulations must be followed, curfews met and vouchers signed before someone can secure a bed at the shelter, Swanson said.
Buchanan said he is down on his luck because he can’t find his identification verifying his veteran status. The card is his only way of gathering a pension.
In the meantime, he purchases inexpensive supplies from a military supply warehouse near the transitway to keep his camp intact.
Buchanan found an old, blue bike abandoned on campus last year. Swanson said he brought it into the police station to make sure it wasn’t reported lost or stolen.
Police cleared the bike and told Buchanan to keep it.
Nowadays, Buchanan lays the bicycle next to some brush at his encampment.
Before he goes to bed for the evening he looks for Alley Cat. As he searches in the dark, he notices a large bag of cat food has spilled over, scattering pellets near his bed.
Buchanan bids Swanson a farewell and reminds him to send greetings to one of his other friends living on the streets.