The Free Press, Mankato, MN

No Direction Home

December 8, 2013

No Direction Home, Day 1: More Mankato homeless now than 10 years ago

Young and old seeking help from a variety of sources

Read Day 1 stories in pdf format

Officer Wayne Terry clicks his seat belt into place and puts the squad car into drive.

“This is what I call making the rounds,” he says.

He pulls away and heads for the first spot on his list: the river. After pulling into Riverfront Park, Terry takes a hard right onto the bike path.

“Right along here is where a lot of them used to sleep,” Terry says, referring to the homeless. “When they put this park in, a lot of them were displaced.”

Heading down the path, which follows the river and winds around the wastewater treatment plant and behind a limestone quarry, he eventually stops at a seemingly random spot on the trail.

He parks and locks his squad and heads down a trail that leads to the river.

“You can see there's a well-worn path here,” he says.

Closer to the river, he stops.

“There's one of them,” he says. “You can see where he's sort of marked his territory.”

In an area roughly the size of a school playground, a series of trees have been painted with varying shades of yellow spray paint. Inside, on a small bluff, are the makings of a crude campsite. Stacked brush keeps out the wind. A clear plastic tarp is slung like a tent over a pallet, which appears to be a sleeping area. Clotheslines run from one end of the bluff area to the other holding T-shirts and scarves.

A half football field away is another campsite. Sleeping bags, blankets and shirts are draped over fallen giant cottonwood trees. There's a cooler, a grill, a cart for transporting things.

Terry is the Mankato Department of Public Safety's homeless liaison. Each officer is assigned a part of town for their community policing efforts, and since his neighborhood includes the Salvation Army — where the men's shelter houses up to 27 men on cold winter nights — he's been tagged with the liaison role.

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