Rochester struggles with deaths and overdoses at park homeless camps

Deaths and drug overdoses continue to mount among the occupants of the homeless camps popping up in Rochester parks, seemingly as fast as the authorities remove them. As city officials wrestle with how to contain the camps, Rochester police recently removed the body of a second homeless individual to die in his tent in a popular city park in recent weeks. The Post Bulletin notes officers found evidence of drug use in the vicinity.

According to RPD, it received a report of an unresponsive man located inside a tent among trees near the entrance of Soldiers Field Park shortly after 3 a.m.

RPD worked with the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office to identify the man as 69-year-old Marvin Peterson. He was homeless at the time of his death.

RPD said another man who stayed in a tent next to Peterson checked on him around 11 a.m. Monday and didn’t get a response, but he just thought he was sleeping. He came back around 8 p.m. to check again and Peterson had not moved since 11 a.m.

Days later, KROC radio says police responded to two more close calls involving overdoses in the makeshift camps, one just blocks from the Mayo Clinic.

[Police Captain Casey] Moilanen said an individual called law enforcement to the first overdose at an encampment behind the Guest House Hotel, which is in the area of Famous Daves off of Civic Center Dr. Northwest. Responding officers found an unresponsive 31-year-old man at the encampment. 

Officers administered two doses of Narcan and CPR. The came to and was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital for further treatment.

The Rochester City Council has discussed an ordinance that would ban the tent camps but not taken action yet. At the same time, authorities have ramped up enforcement this summer, giving individuals 48 hours notification to remove their belongings, as well as information on homeless shelters. Yet the increasing number of incidents in the news has led to increasing community concern, according to KAAL-TV.

People in the community are reeling, as Peterson marks the second death in Rochester’s homeless population this summer.

“It’s a tragedy its a loss to the community its a loss to a family that lost a loved one that died alone,” said Dan Fifield, co-owner of The Landing MN, a day center for homeless individuals in Rochester.

According to Fifield, the number of people receiving services at The Landing MN has more than doubled in just the last six months.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin has argued for the city to ban tent encampments in city parks and on public property to send a clear message, Some city councilors, however, want to designate an area in a city park for a homeless tent camp. In the meantime, police and city staff are left to deal with the sometimes deadly reality on the grounds of Rochester parks.