As the snow flies and temperatures drop below freezing, the University of Minnesota has experienced the usual influx of homeless people in campus buildings.
“It’s an annual issue,” University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said. “Most college campuses have issues with homeless individuals when the weather gets colder.”
Three or four times a week, University police run into people who are not students or faculty in campus buildings trying to sleep, find shelter or stay after hours. When buildings close, security monitors, staff or students sometimes call police to escort people away from campus.
Miner said police do not simply drop homeless people on the street.
“Many times, they’ll give them a ride to an area shelter.”
Coffman Union and the West Bank are hot spots for the homeless to hang out, Miner said.
University police reported 27 trespassing incidents at Coffman Union in 2009. In 2010, there were 16 reports by November.
Anyone is welcome in Coffman during its open hours as long as they don’t interfere with students or faculty, said Jason Hancock, associate director of Student Unions and Activities. A more visible police force has curbed the presence of homeless people in Coffman, Hancock said.
University police sometimes encounter someone who has an outstanding arrest warrant or is on a trespass warning list – a roster of a couple dozen people who have been told to stay off campus.
University student Mike Wacker is friends with one man who, after losing his housing, spent time hanging around campus.
Wacker said he met the man as a neighbor in Dinkytown four years ago. After the man lost his room, Wacker’s neighbor would spend nights at the Salvation Army and days at the University before he was barred from campus for stealing books.
University Security Monitor Dan Hassoun said monitors know the faces of many trespassers.
“We have a ‘who’s who’ of people we tend to see,” Hassoun said. “There are a few we know by name.”
Hassoun said security monitors commonly run into individuals sleeping or hiding in bathrooms when they are closing down a building. He said the monitors usually ask those individuals to leave, and “nine times out of 10, they are compliant.”
Nursing student Rachel Miller, who is a member of Blessed are the Poor, a social service student group, said she often sees people who appear to be homeless in the West Bank tunnel system. She used to give McDonald’s gift cards to some familiar faces.
“There are about 10 people that I see regularly,” Miller said.
Last week, a custodian called University police after cigarette smoke was seen coming out of a bathroom in Eddy Hall. Two men were smoking in one of the stalls.
Miner said the homeless visitors are often struggling with mental illness or addiction. Still, he and Hassoun agreed the majority of them are amiable.
“Most vagrants on campus are very nice. They don’t give us any trouble,” Hassoun said.