BULLHEAD CITY — Many of those who work with the local homeless community were at the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on Wednesday to comment on concerns expressed online that homeless people in city parks should be prevented from sitting or napping in the park for long spans of time — especially during daylight.
Commissioner Jack Hakim requested the issue be discussed after seeing Facebook posts with people concerned, complaining or, occasionally, afraid of the homeless people in city parks. Community Park is the site most frequently thought about as a location for area homeless people to congregate. However, they also can be found in other parks and public areas.
“I was concerned about what I was reading,” Hakim said. “I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable.”
He said he thought it would be a good idea to consider signage to let people — including the homeless — know the city doesn’t want to see loitering or camping in the parks.
People wanting to have picnics or sit down for awhile say they have been finding spots unavailable in Community Park. Homeless people are often seen gathered in small groups under covered picnic bench areas eating and chatting.
Their belongings — food, blankets, spare clothes and hygiene items — are placed on top of the picnic tables. These items are usually bagged, in backpacks, or wrapped in blankets.
“We are working toward solving some of those problems,” said Patty Jacques, homeless outreach specialist for Catholic Charities. ‘We’ve seen some tremendous results.”
She also stressed that the process isn’t speedy but that some of these people are getting places to live.
Jacques said that while she understands some of the concerns of residents who want to use the park, “these people aren’t down there to hurt anybody.”
She and others pointed out that it can be concerning when tables and benches at local parks might be full that the homeless men and women have a right to be there.
“It’s first-come, first-served,” said Mark Tierce, director of the Veterans Resource Centers of America’s Bullhead City office, which works with veterans across Mohave County. Some local veterans are homeless and the organization works to assist them with finding housing and a variety of other matters.
“If they’re doing something illegal, call police,” Tierce said. “If not, suck it up and move on.”
There are also park rangers who can help people who have concerns.
“We have a couple of claims on Facebook,” said CJ Kelly, Guardian Foundation, which also works with local homeless people, including local homeless veterans, about some incidents between residents and local homeless people.
If these claims are true, Kelly said, “the police would have been involved.”
A homeless veteran said he felt like the city wanted to treat him and others like as if they were “no good.”
“You are wrong! I’m really passionate about homeless vets,” Hakim said. “I’m not opposed to homeless people. But I’m concerned about people who use that park.”
Someone else wanted to point out that homeless people can die as a result of the intense summer heat here in Bullhead City and that Leonard Joseph Collins, 55, who was found June 7 behind City Square, died from heat exposure, according to the Bullhead City Police Department.
One woman said she was a Facebook commenter and also said she knows people who are afraid to go to Community Park.
“I’m sure a lot (of them) are good; I’m sure a lot are not,” said Melissa McClure.
About 10 people spoke. Many suggested that people concerned about the city’s homeless situation learn more about it and consider assisting the various groups that work with this segment of the population.
Also brought up during the commission meeting was a court case brought by homeless people in Boise, Idaho. Currently, communities within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals can’t prosecute homeless people for “involuntarily sitting, lying and sleeping in public,” according to a decision in Martin vs. Boise. That includes locations Arizona, Nevada and California, where there are fewer shelter beds available than homeless people.
Boise officials are seeking review of the circuit court decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the case, which is also referred to as the “camping lawsuit,” according to the Associated Press.
If the high court reverses the lower court finding, cities could again penalize or prosecute homeless people for lingering in public areas.
The Parks and Recreation Commission would have made a recommendation to the City Council, where a final decision would be made. While the signage matter was set aside, the commissioners asked for updates about local homelessness — especially as it pertains to local parks.
At the city’s Homeless Task Force meeting on Thursday, discussion turned to the events of the night before.
Jeff Tipton, the city’s human services director, stressed that Hakim was only trying to help.
“He listens to everybody,” Tipton said about the former mayor who was just reappointed to the commission for two more years on Tuesday. “I’m not saying it was right or indifferent. He just wanted to offer solutions.”
Jacques and others at this meeting agreed that educating the public about homelessness is key.
For example, construction is projected to be done sometime in January on the Bullhead City Homeless Shelter and Day Center, which will be on the 1500 block of Oatman Road. Catholic Charities still requires $600,000 to pay for its entire $1.4 million share of the construction costs.
And volunteers to work in the new shelter will be needed. Small donations are welcome. Bottled water donations are especially needed now that summer is here.
Jacques encouraged people interested in helping to reach out to Catholic Charities or one of the other groups in the community that assist the homeless.
Some believe the structure will empty all local parks and public areas of homeless men and women. Those who work with these people stress that it will reduce the number of people here who have no home and help others slowly regain control of their lives. But there will still be people living on the streets.
That group will likely include veterans — some who suffer from PTSD or other mental health and behavioral problems, said Jacques and Tierce.