This critically thinking News Dog thinks a change in paradigms is highly necessary in how the City deals with the ongoing and growing issue of homeless camps on public land. Not only are the camps illegal, but they also create a public safety issue for neighbors living nearby and those wishing to use a public park, but also for those who choose to live off grid in those camps.

Case in point, we’ll address an illegal camp near Gate 1 of Cliff Drive that continues to disrupt and threaten those who wish to use the Drive to walk and exercise. Despite numerous 311 calls made by neighbors, the camp continues to exist and present a safety threat to those interested in using the park. 

Additionally, there’s been a minivan and an associated tent and debris field in the Chestnut Greenway since last November. Neighbors have made numerous 311 Action Center requests to have the illegal campers removed, yet it remains.

Neighbors are angry, and rightfully so, that more isn’t being done by the City to address the issue. Ever since the Occupy City Hall protestors established their tent city on the south lawn to allegedly to protest the City not doing enough to help the homeless population, they’ve had a free pass in terms of illegally camping in and trashing City parks.

Not only are City Ordinances that prohibit camping being ignored in the interest of optics, but the safety of residents, not to mention the safety of camp occupants is being jeopardized.

Two homicides were recorded in the Belvidere Park camp during its tenure at Independence and Paseo. Two machete attacks, one in the Paseo camp and another that originated in a camp near Windsor Avenue and Gladstone Blvd. that ended with a seriously injured victim on an innocent neighbor’s front porch. A fatal shooting, along with a recent missing person/suspicious death in a camp near St. John and Belmont occurred, and yet little has been done to change the existing paradigm that continues to put the general public at risk.

The City, in their defense, has thrown a plethora of housing and service options at the chronically homeless population and yet, during an extreme cold snap, the camp at Independence and Paseo remained full. The Dog’s point being, all the resources in the world marshaled to help those who don’t want it isn’t solving the problem for either party concerned. 

Even Doug Langner, the new Executive Director at Hope Faith Ministries on Admiral Blvd. is ready for a paradigm shift. Almost immediately after coming on board, he removed the tents on the public sidewalk near his offices stating, “We owe our neighbors better and we owe them better.”

This solution-minded News Dog would like to offer a plan that addresses the situation in a holistic way and also removes the daily trash and public safety threat from neighbors wanting to use our public parks. 

The City owns a huge tract of land, roughly 400 acres, in the Leeds district that would be a perfect relocation area for the City’s homeless population that chooses consistently to live off-grid. The location is easily accessible to I-435 and I-70 and would have zero residential impact. Wrap-around services that include mental health counseling, health care, job seeking and life skills could all be located on the site. Pallet houses or tiny home communities could be located there as well, all in a secured environment. Service agencies, many of which have transportation services, could have regularly scheduled stops at the centralized camp, offering rides to clinic appointments or job interviews.

Given the city already owns the land, any associated costs would be minimal. Utility access such as power and water could be easily established, and site prep, such as grading and fencing, could be completed by the City at minimal cost.

This comprehensive solution achieves a desired result on all fronts. It relieves the ongoing public safety risk to neighbors and camp residents by consolidating those who want to live off-grid in a central location that is both safe and secure. It also takes the trashing of parks by illegal camps out of the mix as campers could be given the choice of relocating to the City site, moving on to another location that isn’t publicly owned, or as a last resort, face a City ordinance violation for continuing to occupy a public park. Lastly, this allows tax paying urban core residents to safely use public park land such as Cliff Drive or Concourse Park.

It’s a win-win-win scenario that deserves serious public conversation and implementation.

This article is an opinion. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s organization.