Note: Due to operator error (mine), this blog never made it into the blogosphere. Last I heard, Pioneer Park's neighbors are still struggling with the crime problem.
The city is launching another initiative against the expanding bum problem around Pioneer Park. (Our mayor and police chief assured the media that it's not the homeless who are the problem, it's the criminals who prey upon them, mostly by selling them drugs.)
Unfortunately, the press conference Monday seemed more about mollifying frustrated downtown businesses than announcing real solutions for the area sometimes called the Rio Grande district. Mayor Ralph Becker said the city will take a collaborative approach with local businesses and care providers in the area.
Apparently, putting that dog run in Pioneer Park didn't fix the issue.
But no one at the conference seemed to be able to explain why the numbers of homeless (and the amount of crime) spiked in the area beginning last spring. And no one seemed to be able to offer any real solutions.
Here is the muddle offered Monday:
– Ten unemployed people have been hired for a newly created Clean Team (in action below) to pick up trash.
– The shrub covered median on 500 West (above) will be re-landscaped to make it less suitable for drug dealing and use as a bathroom.
The cops will spend more time undercover busting people for buying and selling drugs. “We'll send the message this is not the place to commit crime,” explained Burbank.
– The Downtown Alliance will train volunteer “ambassadors” in colorful coats to guide visitors to the city's restaurants and cultural centers. (The DTA spokesman acknowledged that the volunteers will work in the central downtown area and, thus, probably have no impact on Pioneer Park's problems.)
The only surprise was that Ralph didn't suggest bike trails as the ultimate solution to homelessness and drug abuse.
Sheryl Gillilan, executive director of Art Access, a gallery on 500 West that works with disabled, homeless and other disenfranchised members of society, said she witnesses drug deals and fights in her parking lot on a regular basis.
“I hope you are right,” she told Burbank at the press conference. She later explained she couldn't imagine a quick solution since the drug deals are so prevalent and go down so quickly. "I'm not afraid of homeless people," Gillilan emphasized. “But the [crime] problem is growing. I don't know what the police will be able to do about it. How can anybody catch all this.”
The chief sees the ultimate solution to be emphasizing drug treatment along with arrests to reduce recidivism and getting more businesses thriving in the neighborhood. "Positive use of any space causes criminal activity to go down," he said. Tell that to the businesses already struggling in the area. He also pointed out that having shelters and service centers for the homeless in the neighborhood made problem even more difficult.
As for the mayor's promise of a cooperative approach with businesses, Barbara Polich of Antczak Polich law firm on 400 West, said she was never informed of the new initiative and heard about the press conference by accident. “There is no interaction with local businesses,” she complained.
All in all, deli owner and Third South/Third West warlord Tony Caputo may have offered the most satisfying solution a week ago, when he half-jokingly suggested: “Turn on the sprinklers in the park at 10 [p.m.], 2 and 4 [a.m.].”
If nothing else, the city's initiative is well timed—snow will soon undercut crime in the park.