City programs for transients in public park stir debate

| August 30, 2018 | 0 Comments

ART DECO pylon behind playground at Pan Pacific Park.

The connection between sidewalk encampments and criminal activity is increasingly a point of contention between policy makers and residents. Even the most sympathetic neighbors are struggling with the sense of danger that often accompanies groups of transients on residential streets.

For one Mid City West resident, the suggestion of adding support programs for vagrants squatting at Pan Pacific Park indicates a move in the wrong direction. Following a July 31 Pan Pacific Park Advisory Committee meeting, Robert Cherno contacted the Chronicle on behalf of a group of residents who were concerned with what they heard.

“Many of us who live near the park were there to discuss the increase in crime associated with the homeless coming to the park,” said Cherno. “Mid City West Community Council (MCWCC) vice chair Andrew Jhun was in attendance at the meeting, and to my amazement, was once again pitching that programs for the homeless be allowed to be implemented at the park.”

Cherno said that many of the residents in attendance were “outraged” at Jhun’s suggestion: “They are as fed up as I am with the out-of-control crime taking place in the park by the homeless, many of whom came after being removed from Poinsettia Park.”

Park stabbings

In timing that proved to be sadly ironic, a victim was stabbed multiple times at Pan Pacific Park by a suspect described by police as a “35-year-old transient” in an unprovoked attack. The incident took place just feet away from the Pan Pacific Park Advisory Committee meeting, where crime and homelessness were being debated at the time. The knife was recovered by police, and the suspect was taken into custody; the victim was treated and recovered.

Just one month earlier, in a separate attack, a resident was allegedly stabbed in the torso with a steak knife by a transient squatting at a homeless encampment near Poinsettia Recreation Center. Police are still searching for the suspect.

MCWCC responds

Was Cherno right? Is MCWCC advocating for public services to be provided to transients inside park facilities? To find out, we asked board president Scott Epstein.

“Although our board is highly engaged on the issue of homelessness, as evidenced by our leading the homeless count for multiple years in a row, we have not discussed or taken any action regarding whether any services or programs for our homeless neighbors should be located at Pan Pacific Park.

“Simply put, Mid City West currently has no official position in either direction on this particular issue,” said Epstein.

In regard to MCWCC vice chair Andrew Jhun, and his comments at the July 31 park advisory committee meeting, Jhun says that his “personal” comments have been taken out of context.

According to Jhun, it was the park director for Pan Pacific Park who reported on significant difficulties maintaining order at the park due to the increased activities of homeless individuals. In response to that comment, Jhun said that he asked the park director if “the possibility of having a service provider present had been explored” to help park staff to maintain order and safety, “since it seemed like they were overburdened.”

Jhun says he welcomes a broader debate on the topic: “I certainly look forward to having a public discussion on exploring potential avenues of meaningfully addressing the issue and coordinating a unified response together with the Pan Pacific Park Advisory Board, the police department and all of our affected stakeholders,” he concluded.

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