Skoog: Campus trespassing and the housing crisis

Requiring U card access to some campus buildings sends a covert message to the homeless population: they’re not welcome here.

by Caroline Skoog

New security measurements in the public health buildings on campus have generated concerns about “the impact this heightened security presence could have on homeless individuals, marginalized communities and the identity of the University as a public, land-grant institution,” as reported by The Minnesota Daily earlier this month. 

The protections, which came into effect in December 2019, reduce public access to three entrances, each entry consisting of a security guard. Students need their U Cards to enter the buildings and faculty must wear visible University identification. 

The increased security methods are in response to an ‘uptick’ in trespassing instances this past year, with 200 incidents reported from January through September. In 2009, there were 27 reports of trespassing on the UMN campus. The UMPD characterizes trespassing as “when a person enters or remains inside University property even though they are not supposed to be there.” For example, a student was stabbed with a hypodermic needle in the Biomedical library in October. 

The number of Hennepin county residents living unsheltered, as in sleeping outside, rose 50% between January 2018 and January 2019, according to shelter counts. Approximately 103 Minnesotans died while living on the street in 2019.  

The housing crisis is inextricably linked to the trespassing incidents on campus.

In one sense, the security methods seem warranted because these are medical institutions servicing vulnerable populations. Certain precautionary measures seem appropriate for the setting, and it’s not an extensive procedure for a student to enter. However, as far as safety is concerned, I’m not sure how many aggressive intruders they’re actually stopping from entering the building. I mean, how much of a physical barrier can one security guard pose? 

Without just coming out and saying it, the U Card formality sends a covert message to the homeless population, which is that they’re not welcome here. The medical buildings are being treated as beta-testers for this new system, and they have uniquely sensitive circumstances that might fit the precaution. 

Personally, I’ve never had an issue with any non-students hanging out in Coffman, Lind or other campus buildings. I think it’d be a shame if the University employed these security methods in other campus buildings, kicking dozens of people with nowhere else to go on the street in the freezing winter months.

It’s been reported that UMPD brings individuals who are suffering from homelessness to shelters around the Twin Cities instead of just removing them from the premises. But many shelters do criminal background checks, and there’s a shortage of beds available at Minneapolis shelters. Extending these security measures to other campus buildings doesn’t seem necessary, and all it would do is intensify the problems of the housing crisis.