Neighbors worried by homeless people sleeping in park

Neighbors worried by homeless people sleeping in park »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A neighbor is worried about safety after spotting people living in Lowell Park.

Police say "lodging" in city parks is illegal, and parks crews convinced a number of those at that park to move along.

A viewer contacted Eyewitness News about people seen at all hours sleeping in the city park at South P and Fourth streets. This neighbor has small children in her family, and she was concerned about the two nearby schools.

On Monday morning at about 10:30, a news photographer spotted several people at some picnic tables under a shelter. It looked like they were just waking up, and there were piles of clothes, some food and a shopping cart nearby.

By noon, Eyewitness News talked to one man still in that table area.

"We don't have nowhere else to live, and right now this is the only place that's safe and comfortable until we get on our feet," Reginald Hill said.

He stood over a pile of blankets between two tables.

An upholstered chair was on its side, Hill said he used that to shield the area from passers-by and any animals.

Hill said three to five people used the area. Asked why he didn't stay at a homeless shelter, Hill said he and his wife could stay together at the park, but they'd be separated at a shelter.

Hill also said he's been staying at Lowell Park for about two weeks.

Eyewitness News called the Bakersfield Park Department and police, and they say the people have not been there that long.

Police Sgt. Joe Grubbs said park workers report they'd been at Lowell on Friday and didn't see the group and their belongings at that time.

On Monday afternoon, Grubbs went to the park and said city crews had just convinced the people to leave.

"They had moved the folks that had kind of taken over the picnic table area, had them move on their way," Grubbs said. "And had picked up the trash and were hauling that out of the park."

Bakersfield Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover told Eyewitness News her crews are "not enforcers." They can only ask people to leave. If they won't, police officers are called.

Meanwhile, administrators at Emerson Junior High School said they also call on police if there seems to be trouble at the park across the street from their campus.

Vice Principal Erick Casallas told Eyewitness News the school asked for officer support just last Thursday, after hearing people fighting in Lowell Park.

Casallas said police were asked to be in the area at about 2 p.m. when school got out. He said police are also called when school officials feel conditions may be "unsafe" at the park.

The viewer with concerns, said she saw people in the park after school hours and midday, and she felt uncomfortable.

Grubbs said officers will respond to neighbor concerns in city parks.

"If it's uncomfortable for a person, it's uncomfortable for a person, and their peace is being disturbed, and that's when we can get involved and ask people to leave," Grubbs said. "But, everybody has a right to use the park as long as they're not breaking any laws."

However, sleeping in a park is breaking a law.

"There's a municipal code against 'lodging' in a park," Grubbs explained, "And, we do enforce these as we have the resources to enforce it."

Parks Director Hoover said her crews also try to stay vigilant to any problems in the parks, and her security team is now aware of the complaints at Lowell.

Hoover also noted it is not illegal to nap in a city park during the day. However, parks do close at 10 p.m.

Grubbs said neighbors should call police if they have concerns or spot problems. And, he said the city park crews at Lowell had alerted him to another possible situation.

"They gave me a little tip on another park that I talked with the watch commander about, and they're going to send some (patrol) officers out," he promised.