Neighbors Call for Better Plan on Homeless Living in Peters Park

Residents in the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) are calling for the City and Pine Street Inn to come up with a better way to serve a growing group of homeless individuals that they said are taking over the park – scaring away children and harassing those trying to use the park.

Peters Park has always had small issues with homeless living in the park at times, but neighbors said this summer it has taken on a whole new look as several individuals have been living around the clock in the park – and making it hard for others to enjoy the space.

“This isn’t about NIMBY; it is about what is the plan to get people into work or housing and not hanging or living in the park,” said Arthur Coe, a long-time resident and member of EBNA. “Everyone has a right to be in the park, but you don’t have the right to take it over or make it your home…There needs to be a strategy here. I don’t know what it is, but I’m willing to help if they need help.”

EBNA President Ken Smith and Coe said many neighbors have contacted them over the summer about people living on the baseball diamond, sleeping overnight and getting services from Pine Street Inn at the park. Neighbors said they don’t want to drag the Boston Police into the matter, as it isn’t a police issue. Bringing in the police only seems to criminalize the problem, which they said isn’t criminal.

“It’s not a police matter,” said Coe. “Captain Sweeny and D-4 officers are doing a wonderful job and they’re understaffed. It’s not a police matter, but an outreach matter. Pine Street is not out consistently.”

Said Smith, “I support Pine Street, but they need to be more focused on these efforts.”

Coe said he has seen the group living in the park harassing kids trying to play basketball and sleeping in the tot lot – discouraging parents from coming to the park.

Pine Street said the issue did get everyone’s attention earlier in the summer, and the City and Boston Police asked them to do outreach.

“Our outreach teams have gone to Peters Park at the City’s and BPD’s request,” said Barbara Trevison of Pine Street. “We agree with the community that no one should live in a park, and our staff are actively working to find places for those who are there. Strategies often include the distribution of basic food and water as we engage people and help them find a placement. Staff have had success with getting several people to shelter and detox.”

The City said they fund the Pine Street daytime outreach team, and coordinate with a city network of outreach providers, emergency shelter and housing programs. They said they regularly ask Pine Street and other agencies to respond to persons in need of services in Peter’s Park, other locations in the South End, and across the city. In addition, work continues to refer people to shelter, detox, mental health and medical care, and permanent housing, the City indicated.
However, they said it was not accurate to suggest they had asked Pine Street to serve hot meals to those living in the Park, as some in the neighborhood have said they’ve seen, though they do encourage outreach teams to provide water during extreme hot weather.
Councilor Ed Flynn has been very close to the matter, and he said he has had meetings at Peters Park this summer to try to address the issues. He has been taking walking tours of the area through this month, including at Mass/Cass, and last Friday at Blackstone/Franklin Squares and Villa Victoria.

Flynn said neighbors at Peters Park and across the South End have serious concerns about what’s happening there, and he said rightfully so.

“I think there has to be some personal responsibility and accountability for people using drugs in the park,” he said. “Parks are for athletics, community gatherings and socializing with friends and being in neighborhood spaces. It’s not a place for people to come and use drugs and discard needles. That behavior is not only illegal, but it also prevents other people from living a good quality of life…That attitude needs to change. I am compassionate and support Recovery Services, but this is a neighborhood park where kids play sports and seniors enjoy the park.”

Flynn said he and his team are seeing lots of homeless in public spaces, and lots of discarded needles. He said it’s time for the City to focus on basic services and quality of life.

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