Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Huntridge Circle Park still plagued with homelessness

Troubled territory: The saga of Huntridge Circle Park and its homeless population continues.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Lots of things people don’t want to see happen in our public parks.

A young woman captured one of those things in a photo a few weeks ago. It’s a picture of what appears to be a middle-aged woman defecating near a new children’s play area in Huntridge Circle Park.

The park, situated on a median with two lanes of busy Maryland Parkway on either side, is one of the only green havens Downtown, but just reaching it can be dangerous.

Clark Beltran’s niece took the photo around 4:30 p.m. on Veterans Day, he said, while the park’s restrooms, a few hundred feet away, were open to the public. The woman did her business and strolled on through the park, Beltran said.

At the time, the park had only been open daily for about two weeks. For the previous two years, it had been open just on weekends, and for five years before that, it was closed altogether, the city’s response to a stabbing death during an argument over a broken sprinkler head.

I’ve lived near the park for more than a decade, and I remember when it was closed for a $1.5 million renovation in 2004, then shut down in 2006 after the murder. It was fun and neighbor-filled in the first few weeks after the 2004 opening, but people stopped going there within months.

The homeless population had swelled, and a nearby homeowner began using the park as a staging area to feed the homeless—until the City of Las Vegas outlawed that practice, a law that was later overturned in court.

Today, the debate over the park among neighbors, the mayor and city officials has a familiar ring to it. It’s not the sight of someone sleeping under a tree, on the sidewalk, in the grass or wherever they happen to pass out from street fatigue or drunkenness; it’s entering a realm where many of the people suffer from mental illness.

There’s that photo from Veterans Day, and there are other stories of young families being harassed, threatened and catcalled by those who are drunk, mentally ill or otherwise not all there. Most Huntridge neighborhood residents don’t want to be cruel, but some have been around long enough to say that if these issues aren’t addressed quickly, the park will quickly devolve. At the same time, no one wants the police to come in and start roughing everyone up.

The question is always the same: What can be done?

Years ago, then-Mayor Oscar Goodman suggested hauling the homeless to an empty prison, which would serve as a one-stop assistance shop. Laws were enacted then retracted to make life for the homeless, whose lives were already out of control, tougher within city limits.

Some people say we should just accept the homeless population, that they’re a valuable part of the urban experience, that they make you appreciate what you have and keep you from being blind to the plight of the most economically disadvantaged.

More than once I’ve heard: “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Just a week ago, a Downtown businessman said police are doing a great job “pushing them out,” meaning farther east—past Maryland Parkway, past 15th Street, past Eastern Avenue and into parts of the city that redevelopment isn’t likely to touch for a decade or more.

A few days later, someone said it’s simply a part of life: Every continent, country, state and city has homeless people.

And as long as homelessness has been around, no one has been able to “solve the problem.”

Should we throw money at it? Return, for instance, some of the mental health funding that has been gutted by our federal government and states over the past three decades?

And if the homeless weren’t Downtown, would it really be “Downtown”?

In some ways, I see Downtown as the ultimate melting pot, whereas the suburbs are homogenized because that’s what those who live there desire.

In the end, I have no solution, if that’s even the right word. I doubt you do, either.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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