5 to 10 on Hennepin
On 10th Street, a block off of Hennepin Avenue, in front of the Salvation Army Harbor Lights shelter, a drill team danced to ringing drumbeats. Cheese sandwiches melted and crisped on an outdoor grill. Children sat for face-painting and learned to play Double Dutch next to the brand new mural painted by local artists. Carnival games like Plinko and mini bowling lined the edge of the asphalt lot. Social and public health workers were on hand to offer help to those who needed it.
This all happened last night at 5 to 10 on Hennepin, a program established and operated by Hennepin Theatre Trust. It was the last 5 to 10 on Hennepin for the summer, and it was a joyful one. It was clear to me that this event meant something to everyone who attended.
How it Started
As CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, I heard from many theatre patrons that they felt uncomfortable on Hennepin Avenue. They told me they encountered groups of people milling about and hanging around on street corners. Some of those people reportedly harassed and made threats against theatre patrons.
After hearing these complaints, I went down onto the Avenue with my staff to observe what was going on. What I saw was that, while there was a criminal element, most of the people who were "hanging around" were there because they didn't have much money and had no place else to go. For them, the marquee lights of the theatres created a welcome place to socialize.
We didn't think the solution was to call on law enforcement to clear all those people out, though many business owners would have chosen to do exactly that. Instead, we thought programming involving live entertainment and interactive experiences would be a better approach. We had already been considering starting some kind of programming to keep workers downtown; instead we used this idea to engage the people who were already downtown.
Our talented staff built a sound stage and set up seating. We brought in performers. When people started coming repeatedly to these events, we saw that social services could be brought in to provide assistance to people who needed it.
With the majority of people engaged in the programming, it became easier for police officers to spot and focus on criminal activity. This was an important step toward making our streets safer.
Throughout this summer, Hennepin Avenue has seen very high rates of violent crime. Programming like 5 to 10 on Hennepin isn't enough to address that. There are myriad issues that contribute to the problems on Hennepin Avenue, and we need to do the hard work of addressing each one. However, 5 to 10 on Hennepin helps to foster a sense of community, which goes a long way toward making streets safer for everyone. Combine that with consistent, constitutional policing of criminal activity and we’ll have a recipe for a downtown that not only welcomes people, but attracts them.
As VJ Smith said last night, "This belongs to us."