UMPD partners with nonprofit to address rise in homelessness on campus

The contract between the University of Minnesota Police Department and St. Stephen’s Human Services will help homeless individuals on and around campus.

Illustrated by Abby Adamski

Abby Adamski

Illustrated by Abby Adamski

by Mohamed Ibrahim

With a rise in homelessness on and around campus, the University of Minnesota Police Department will formally partner with a nonprofit this month to address the issue. 

UMPD will work with Minneapolis nonprofit St. Stephen’s Human Services’s Outreach program to find long-term placement for homeless individuals. The two organizations will formalize their agreement in the next two weeks, officials said.

“We thought it would be good to be proactive about how we handle our homeless population and our encounters, and try to seek long-term solutions for placement and services,” said UMPD Chief Matt Clark.

St. Stephen’s provides short-term shelter and permanent housing for homeless individuals. Last year, the Outreach program helped St. Stephen’s find housing for more than 400 individuals and provide shelter to more than 1,300 people who would have otherwise slept outside.

The Outreach program’s six members provide other services, like handing out water during the summer or providing harm reduction supplies to intravenous drug users.

“We’re just sort of a place that people can come and, you know, not feel judged,” said St. Stephen’s Outreach team lead Chris Knutson. “When we talk to people on the streets, we’re coming to them where they’re at [and] we’re not trying to push anything on people.”

The yearlong contract will require the Outreach team to work with UMPD on and around campus a minimum of six times. The organization will train officers to use a humanitarian approach to homelessness, while UMPD will conduct ride-alongs with Outreach team members to provide them with information on the locations where displaced individuals tend to gather on campus.

“Getting a heads up from them about where camps are popping up – that kind of thing is useful to us because it helps guide where we’re spending our time,” Knutson said.

Prior to contract negotiations, UMPD collaborated informally with the St. Stephen’s team over the years. Officers of the department’s Community Engagement Team would take St. Stephen’s workers to areas around campus with the highest numbers of homeless individuals. UMPD Lt. Jim Nystrom, who leads the Community Engagement Team, said the officers would allow Outreach team members to approach homeless individuals first.

“Homeless people don’t always react well to a uniformed officer or even a lightly uniformed officer,” said Nystrom. “They’re more so looking for that social worker, that person who can help them.” 

The University has seen a significant increase in the local homeless population over the last two years, specifically near the East Bank light rail station and its surrounding buildings and parking ramps, Nystrom said. This increase caused the department to boost its response by formalizing the contract with St. Stephen’s.

Although the agreement between the two is a great step in assisting homeless individuals around campus, it is only the beginning, Nystrom said.

“The fact that we’ve entered into an agreement doesn’t mean that our homelessness issue is gone or going away,” he said. “I think it’s going to be something we’ll have to contend with for a good number of years, if not for a very long time.”