LA City Council is considering a plan that could separate parts of public parks for safe and secure camping sites for people who are homeless. And the news is not well received by locals.
Westchester Park and Mar Vista Park are two of the locations suggested in a feasibility study commissioned by LA City Councilor for District 11, Mike Bonin. Neighbors in Westchester point to picnic tables, ball fields and parking lots all cramped with tents that have grown exponentially during the COVID pandemic.
âNo matter where they set up a safe campsite in Westchester Park, it’s going to affect us,â says Beth O’Rourke, director of youth sports for West Side rugby clubs. âWe witnessed urinating in public, we saw excrement on the ground, around the field. The toilets are unusable for an adult and even less for a child.
The City of LA Parks and Recreation Department has been renovating the fields in recent weeks, but some residents say the tents lining the perimeter prove the priority is not on the kids using the park, but on the homeless people who abuse it.
âI don’t feel like they respect the fact that it belongs to everyone. Just for them, âsays Becca Prismantis, a Westchester resident who says she had to take her kids to nearby towns for their lacrosse teams.
Earlier this year, Bonin requested a feasibility study for an alternative to encampments and suggested part of Westchester Park and Mar Vista Park. NBC4 viewers shared photos showing campsites had invaded the softball fields.
“What we are proposing is to allow those who are here now to be in a certain section,” Bonin explained at a city council meeting in May. âGive them security, sanitation, services, install them in housing while restoring the rest of the park for general and public use. “
But some parents say the damage is done; teams have had to move to other parks, parents have had to leave their home neighborhoods to take their children to play – and all because they don’t feel safe in their own local park.
âI see things are taken care of, I see it’s just out of control,â says Prismantis.
But Stephanie Tatro says she has two young children whom she often brings to the park and feels very safe, even at night.
Tatro is a co-founder of the local Grass Roots Neighbors nonprofit and says she has gotten to know many of those who call Westchester Park home.
âI see a lot of uses happening in this park as well as the people who live here who are not housed and who are trying to take the next step in their lives and improve the circumstances,â Tatro says.
She believes the park is big enough for children and the homeless and denies any danger lurking nearby.
âI don’t see how the tents prevent access. Full access is available, âshe said.
But as the NBC4 I-Team first reported on May 20, crime is on the rise near parks and schools in Los Angeles where homeless settlements abound. NBC4 cameras caught brawls, weapons used to harass and threaten homeless people and angry parents over what they say is the city’s lack of interest in addressing the root causes of roaming.
Six days after the NBC4 report, Bonin lobbied city council to provide park space for homeless neighbors.
“I will gladly take all of these things off the table if people can come up with better solutions,” he told voters and colleagues at the May meeting.
Westchester parents say they have an idea.
âA different solution would be to send them or move them to a place that doesn’t take the kids away,â says O’Rourke. âIt’s like homeless people are allowed to live here, but children are not allowed to play here.
The results of the feasibility study are expected in early August. Some residents argue that this will not be enough because the study does not take into account the community impact of such a plan, which they say would be a failure.