Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Unfortunate Problem in Our Community

I live in Huntington Beach, CA, and it is a great city with a lot to offer.  It is a small beachside city in Orange County, in Southern California between Los Angeles and San Diego.  Many people come here for vacation to enjoy the beautiful beaches and amazing weather year round.  I really don’t know of any problems that I have with living here except for one.  Each time I go to a park in my city, which is at least once a week with my children, there are homeless people living and hanging out in the parks.  I feel this is a safety issue because these parks are designed for children.  Although I feel this is a safety issue for my children, I am sure the homeless feel that this is the closest thing they are going to find next to a shelter.  The bigger issue here is that the city of Huntington Beach does not provide a shelter for the homeless.  The closest shelter nearby is in the city of Los Alamitos over eight miles away.   (Homeless Shelter Directory). 

 Odds are if you are homeless and living in a park, you lack the resources to afford the cost of transportation back and forth to the shelter.  Therefore, the next best thing is a public park that offers restrooms, shelter and water fountains.  The only other options of a place to stay for the homeless are under a bridge or at the beach, and those places will not work because they will get kicked out of the beach, and it is dangerous under a bridge.  Unfortunately, the parks seem to be the homeless’ best option for shelter in Huntington Beach.  This is a huge matter that the city of Huntington Beach needs to address.

There have been times when my wife or I have taken our children to the park, and there were many homeless sleeping there.  On one occasion, my wife took our daughter to the bathroom and had to leave immediately.  A homeless woman was in the restroom, with her shirt off, bathing herself in the sink.  It is a very sad and hard situation that the unfortunate woman had to deal with, and I feel bad for her, but the city needs to offer places for the homeless to be able to go and bathe.  I do not know that the woman would ever hurt a child, but what if an older child had gone to the bathroom by him or herself, and a homeless person was in there and got aggressive with them.  It is a potentially dangerous situation for children and an unfortunate situation for the homeless persons living at the parks. 

There have been other times when I have taken my kids to the park right across the street from our neighborhood, and there have been homeless people sleeping and hanging out there.  One homeless man actually started shouting and it scared my children.  We had to leave immediately.  Again, another unfortunate situation where my children were unable to play at a park that my tax dollars help pay for, and the homeless man was unable to find a shelter where he can be safe and receive the help he needs.

As with any local problem that involves the city, the ideas of how to solve the problem do require funding and man hours.  The first solution for this problem is to have the local police monitor the parks more carefully.  This solution would not require any extra funding, but does require the police to take away some time that they would have spent patrolling other areas of the city that need it.  Because of the terrible financial situation of the entire state of California, I know that cutbacks have been made with our local police department.  If we start requiring them to routinely monitor and the parks and clear out the homeless people, we are taking away from other areas that need patrolling.  Not only will this spread the police patrols thin, but it will not provide any better housing solution for the homeless.  Once a policeman tells the homeless that they have to leave, there really are no other options for them to go to except maybe another park a few streets over?  This solution of requiring frequent park patrolling is not the answer. 

Another option for solving this problem of homeless people occupying the local parks is for the city to build and provide a homeless shelter.   Obviously, this would require lots of money and time.  By the time the city came up with the funds to pay for it, city officials would then have to find city owned land available to build one that is within a safe area, start taking bids from contractors to build the building, select a contractor, and start actual construction.  This would take at least a year to complete.  Within that year, what would we do to help this situation until the homeless shelter is complete? 

The best answer to this community’s issue of homeless people living in the local parks is to provide free transportation to the nearest homeless shelter, which is just 8 miles from Huntington Beach.  I do know that the city offers free rides for visitors that come to go to the beach, and park at city hall.  Why not use the funding that pays for free transportation to the beach to help pay for busses to transport the homeless to a homeless shelter?  The city can set up a schedule of when the busses would run, and then provide the rides.  This would take care of the problem.  The homeless people living in the parks would be provided a free ride to a shelter that is safer for them and offers support to help them try to better their circumstances.  This solution of free transportation also works for the city because it would require a lot less funding to provide this service rather than building a shelter. 

The problem of the homeless people in my city occupying the local parks is one that the city of Huntington Beach needs to address.  There is no homeless shelter in Huntington Beach, so many of the homeless sleep and spend their days in the parks.  The best answer to this problem is for the city to provide free transportation to the nearest homeless shelter.  This is the best solution because is more cost efficient than building a local homeless shelter, it prevents the police department from having to put more man hours into patrolling parks, and it provides a safe, better housing solution for  the homeless.  If you are just as concerned as I am with this disturbing issue in our community, please do what you can to try to help me in making this issue brought to light.  A letter to the Mayor, a visit to City Hall, anything you are willing to do would be appreciated.  After all, this is an issue in our city of Huntington Beach that affects all who live here.