Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Veinte de Agosto Park aka 'Safe Park' is Temporarily Closed & Is an Urban Camping Ban Ordinance Making a Comeback?

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2015 at 4:30 PM

City Councilman Steve Kozachik calls Safe Park an unsafe and unsanitary place. The park has become a small community of houseless residents and advocates that have occupied downtown's Veinte de Agosto Park and some surrounding areas since 2013. For now, it has been shut down to all until it's cleaned. 

Since Sunday, yellow caution tape surrounds the park, and city deep-cleaning crews have been in-and-out. That evening, Tucson Police agents went through the park and cleaned out the remaining belongings from previous occupants. They were all evicted Friday. A young man's death at the park Thursday was the last drop to it all. 

Local businesses asked the city to fix the place up due to public health concerns. There are no toilets available, so occupants took it to the streets. When I wrote about Safe Park in April, several sources told me they had years ago requested permits for portable toilets, but the city said no.  

The city can continue to kick people out from sidewalks, parks, washes, but the bottom line is that the shelter beds are not sufficient. The so-called resources are not sufficient and, according to several of Tucson's houseless residents, pretty damn hard to obtain. These short-term "solutions" do not work.

Kozachik, whose ward includes Veinte de Agosto, wrote about the park's temporary closure in his June 15 newsletter. Here's a portion of it:
There was a meeting on Thursday of last week involving a couple dozen business operators from the area. I attended along with three of my staff members. Also in attendance was a representative from the City Manager’s office, a representative from the Ward 1 Council Office, and a representative from the Mayor’s office, although he had been given strict orders to refrain from speaking to the group. Otherwise, we had a robust discussion of what was happening across the street in the park.

The purpose of the meeting was for the business community to yet again express its frustration to the City regarding our inaction on cleaning the area and making it safe. They were right. Members of the Downtown Tucson Partnership have reported regular, daily instances of finding human waste, used drug needles, and other hygienically challenging conditions in and around the park.

The businesses and the community members passing by have a right to expect us to manage our facilities better than that.

The City has had a service provider going through and surveying the people at the park to get a sense of their needs. The result of that work confirms that most of the people there will not qualify for housing in one of our traditional shelters. That group is generally made up of people suffering substance abuse conditions – you don’t check into a shelter if you’re drunk or high. With one exception.

The City had a contract with Central City Assembly (CCA) until last Friday night. They provided a low demand shelter situation in which, as long as you didn’t cause trouble, they’d let you in for a place to sleep. We allowed our contract to lapse on the same night we were telling people in VDA that they could no longer be there, either. There are only so many ways you can squeeze a balloon before it simply breaks. We did that, and I’m disappointed in how this was handled.

Some in City Hall will tell you that the funding ran out. I offered to pay for a 30 day extension at CCA out of our Ward office budget. They cannot claim poverty. Some will also say that the residents who live around the church objected to the shelter. Speak to Pastor Dave and he’ll tell you that they’ve got a good and open rapport with those residents. The real objection was the total lack of communication between the City and those neighbors prior to having extended the contract 90 days ago.

That’s what they wanted to occur this time so protocols for security and sanitation could be reviewed. It’s a totally legit request. Some in City Hall will also say the church didn’t want to extend again. That’s simply false. Check the CCA Facebook page and you’ll see how far from the truth that it is.

Also in attendance at the Thursday meeting were the parents of a young man who had died in the park. They were there to share their perspective on just how complex this issue is. Many of us in the room didn’t need the primer, but it was a welcomed piece of the overall conversation. This is far more than cleaning up a park. It’s addressing the real human needs of those who are living out on the street among us.

Our police saw multiple, daily examples of serious mental illness, drug abuse, violence, and defecation taking place in the park. All of that could have been actionable from a law enforcement standpoint. That fact simply added to the business leaders’ frustration that it was allowed to continue until Sunday. But cleaning it out doesn’t cure it. That was the point the guy’s parents were making, and they’re right.

This requires several things. We will bring back for consideration the urban camping ordinance so the accumulation of items in the public right of way doesn’t start happening again.

I will continue to press the City to renew the CCA contract, but only after having satisfied the request of the surrounding neighbors to sit down and walk through how the area will be protected. 


I’m not begging anybody to be included, but I’m also not going to hide how this has been handled. Letting the business community and wider public know of the misguided tactics that have been used might be cause for change going forward.
In other news, the city is picking up talks again on an urban camping ban ordinance that was snuck into a City Council agenda in March. The council members were supposed to vote on it, even though the public didn't get a chance to weigh in on it. After putting up a fight, the council delayed any moves on the proposal. (A similar ordinance to give Tucson Police the power to declare any gathering of more than 100 people a crowd control issue on the same agenda was also dropped.)

One of Tucson's houseless advocates, Anthony Potter, who is also in the process of drafting a Homeless Bill of Rights, posted a message about it on Facebook:
Tucson Councilman Steve Kosachik is working with the city attorney and Tucson Police department to bring back the failed urban camping ban, which targets the displaced community in Tucson for criminalization. We need jobs not jails, house keys not handcuffs, investment not segregation, we our a symptom not the problem. 
He created an event to plead people to call Kozachik's office Monday and make a case against the possible ordinance.

I'll have more on the urban camping issue soon.

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