by Ford Burkhart (in WU neighborhood for 72 years)
New Ideas May Include Basketball or Tennis Courts
About 60 people, a full house with many of them from West University homes and businesses and City offices, crowded into Trinity Church on August 9, 2018, to hear about a new police plan to combat homelessness and crime at our neighborhood’s two parks.
Top police officers, from Chief Chris Magnus to Lt. Jen Turner and four others, spoke passionately about the huge difficulties in policing homeless people living in De Anza.
Now, Police want to identify a group to “adopt” the park, and create community events in De Anza.
The new plan, called the De Anza Park Quality of Life Police Initiative, will run through December 29, 2018 and has five phases.
- Phase 1, to August 11, involves meetings with community members and council members.
- Phase 2, to August 25, involves meetings with homeless advocates in the De Anza area. Business owners will be given copies of trespass letters and crime prevention tips.
- Phase 3, to September 29, calls for “high visibility” by police in the park area, at Stone Ave. and Speedway. Enforcement of state laws and city code violations will be more prevalent.
- Phase 4, to November 17, calls for “high visibility” in a secondary area, north to Helen Street; south to Second Street; west to 9th Ave., and west to Estevan Park, which is off Speedway near the I-10 freeway.
- Phase 5, to December 29, calls for work on maintenance, beautification or code intervention in and around De Anza, such as brush in alleys, graffiti, junk cars, weeds and trash. It may call for basketball or tennis courts in De Anza, and possible soccer goals.
Lt. Turner ran the general discussion and said there were no easy answers short of having people who live nearby calling the police, at 911, as often as needed.
“Some want everyone arrested,” said Lt. Turner. “Some want no one arrested. … We will offer help with a mental health team. There will be arrests, but we will do everything we can to get services to those who need it.”
“There was a lot of violence going on,” she said. “Then the [transient] community started to take it over. Knock on wood — they are policing the community and they are calling us. The most success we’ve had comes from the community coming together.”
Tucson Parks Superintendent Sean Nicholson said the city has 122 parks, and 80 percent have homeless sleeping in them every night.
Chief Magnus said, “We have an ‘A’ Team from the police department working with you. I have a lot of confidence in them. More important, I have confidence in you,” he told the audience.
“De Anza’s problems are a microcosm of what’s going on across the country, in towns big and small, the cities are struggling. The homeless people have nowhere to go. We need to treat their drug and alcohol addiction. Not just displace them. We can’t just move people from one place to another. We can partner together.”
“We need your eyes on the park; your presence. If it’s important enough for you to be concerned, put some effort into doing things that send a powerful message. We have got to have more resources,” Magnus said.
The crowd at the Trinity Church meeting room peppered the officials with questions, sometimes with angry outbursts at failure to solve the problems, for two hours.
Some Questions and Partial Answers
Why are things getting worse at De Anza?
Because it’s now a different population of homeless and folks addicted to opiods.
Why more trash?
Trash can result from church groups that bring in free food, and give out plastic plates and cups which wind up on the grass or neighbor’s property.
Will problems move from De Anza to Catalina Park?
The new Police Initiative calls for doing “everything possible to prevent Catalina and Esteban Park from being the next problem areas,” Turner said. Police will be doing after hours enforcement in De Anza park, and enforcing laws on narcotics, drinking, violence and camping in the park.
What about issues with bathrooms in De Anza?
The Parks Superintendent, Sean Nicholson, said it is complicated. If you provide a bathroom, one person will move in, stay there with his possessions, and deprive others of its use. Other cities have new metal toilet rooms with open air sections on lower levels so people can’t live and sleep in them.
What about things like the “red velvet couch” that showed up in De Anza Park?
Officers said they need more detail in city ordinances to let them remove such items, including furniture, hammocks, folding chairs, even full size living room chairs that have showed up in parks.
Cliff Wade, the city’s homeless liaison officer, said the city has put 50 homeless into new housing, “using creative measures.” It is working with another 150 people, some now living in Anza and other parks. “We are on track to house 100 people in our first year,” he said.
Parks Area Supervisor
Catherine Beddard, 520 837-8164, cell 631-2899
Email Catherine Beddard
Parks Superintendent at Parks and Recreation
Sean Nicholson, 520 837-8125; cell 631-5597.