[Hpn] Bakersfield, CA - Tough, but wise decision - Bakersfield Californian - November 4th, 2003

editor editor" <hcc@icanamerica.org
Wed, 5 Nov 2003 22:00:05 -0500


Tough, but wise decision

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By Editorial Writer - Bakersfield Californian - November 4th, 2003

Bakersfield, CA - There's many heart-tugging stories
emanating from the homeless who use International Square
Park on Baker Street as their "home." Sadly, their plight is
also causing blight in the area. As a result, Councilwoman
Sue Benham is urging her colleagues on the council to close
the park.

Benham, who represents the Baker Street area and Old Town Kern,
has support from the area's business and community leaders.

While sympathetic to the needs of the homeless, they have solid
reasons in advocating the park's closure.

Benham notes that efforts to clean up the park and help its
"residents" have failed and instead it has become "a focal point
for illegal activity."

This has presented a big barrier to hopes and plans of the Baker
Street business and community leaders who are pushing for new
housing and businesses, community plazas, and refurbished
buildings.

They have a legitimate point that the park stands in the way of
those progressive and worthwhile plans.

It's a sad fact of life that the lifestyle of those using
International Park produces inherent problems.

Benham reflects that crime, drug and alcohol use in the park
along with people who use corners of the park for a bathroom
create a financial burden on the city's police and parks
services.

She said the city can no longer leave the drug dealers and
prostitutes free to claim the park for their own.

"I'm coming down on the side of the law abiders and the people
who want to make Baker Street move forward," she told The
Californian.

Louis Gill, director of the Bakersfield Homeless Center, agrees
that "the current situation isn't working. It's a shame because
we've put a lot of work into it."

Benham can hardly be accused of being callous toward the
homeless. She has fought long and hard to solve traffic problems
that led to a GET bus stop being established this year close to
the Bakersfield center.

Officials with the Bakersfield Homeless Center and the Kern
County Homeless Collaborative had futilely argued for a bus stop
near the center since 1991, when the shelter opened on East
Truxtun Avenue.

The bus stop closest to the center had been on Williams Street, a
long walk from the center.

But the problems caused by International Square Park will prevent
decent development in a historic part of Bakersfield.

Although the park should be closed, we cannot forget the homeless
who reside there.

Walter Williams, a homeless advocate who works with the Community
Homeless Law Center, makes a good point.

He said the city needs to be mindful of funding programs to get
the people of International Square job skills, jobs and places to
live.

Such funding would be a wiser investment for the future of the
homeless rather than a continual spiral of spending to clean up
the park and crack down on crime.

source page:
http://www.bakersfield.com/opinion/editorial/story/4336906p-4346002c.html
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