“Are we against the homeless?” a resident asked the crowd.
“No” was the loud response.
“Have we offered alternatives to most of them?” he asked.
“Did we offer them SafeParking?”
“Did they – and are they using it?”
“Are any other parks in the city offering SafeParking?”
“Our parks have to be here for our children and our seniors,” he said. “We have to stand up and say this is not the right thing.”
A protest with about 50 Westchester residents was held at the park today, September 13.
Councilman Mike Bonin is asking the Recreation and Park Board of Commissioners to form a new SafeParking space in the park. Residents were not involved with Bonin’s request.
Currently, there is a 25-space SafeParking site at the park, but residents were promised that when the fall league sports started on October 3, SafeParking would be removed from the Westchester Park lot, guaranteeing more room for patron parking.
Only last week, residents learned through public records requests that Bonin had asked for a new SafeParking site that is within 500 feet of First Flight Child Care Center and would operate 24 hours. (In most safe parking sites, cars leave during the day and return at night to park).
Beth, who heads a youth rugby league said, “We used to have hundreds of kids playing, but [homeless] people have taken over the parks. Parents are worried about the RVs, fires and drugs. To have the fields taken over by these people who do not pay taxes, takes the area away from children and the elderly.
“There is no safety for our seniors to get to the senior center and children and seniors can’t get to the library,” she said. “A park is not a place for housing.”
Tom, who runs the tennis program said, “Just a month ago, we were told that SafeParking would not be here after October 2.”
There have been numerous incidents at the tennis courts, with homeless. One man has been caught exposing himself trying to bathe in the drinking fountain. Another came to the court where five-year-old girls were playing and said, “They want to have sex with me.” Another has been caught urinating through the fence onto the court.
“They need help,” Tom said. “They don’t need housing. They are holding us hostage.” Some of those who have disrupted the tennis and pickleball program where arrested, but then come right back to the courts. Tom said the police are sympathetic but there is nothing they can do.
“They need help,” he said again about the homeless he has encountered. “It’s that simple.” He spoke about one man, Bill, who has been offered help hundreds of time over the past year, but “won’t take it.”
Another resident said, “I don’t want my child coming here and stepping over used needles and human waste. We need our park back for our kids.”
One reiterated, “This isn’t about the homeless. I’m a mother, this is about having a safe park. There is nothing humane about living in squalor and in feces. This is about safety.”
Residents would like 41.18 enforced, which would mean that the homeless could not live in sensitive areas such as parks and libraries, but unless Councilman Mike Bonin asks for that enforcement, police cannot enforce it under the emergency Covid mandate (that is still in place).
One resident asked when the senior center would open again, Tom told her, “It is open, but no one feels safe going there. It used to be a vibrant place for community members.” He said regularly 75 or more showed up to play Bingo. “Now at most there are 12-13.”
During the recent heat wave, the senior center was open as a City cooling center, but with RVs parked in handicapped accessible spaces and the lack of safe entrance into the site, it was not used by those who needed it most.
Over and over, those who were demonstrating for Safe Parks, emphasized they are not against the homeless, but that a park was not the right place for people who need help.
The community has organized, sending more than 19,500 letters have been sent to City officials asking for help in reclaiming safety for children and seniors.
At the protest, CBS, NBC, Telemundo, Estraella and Spectrum television, and KFI Radio station reporters listened to the residents plea to have their park back.