About a year ago in this space, I authored a piece entitled “The Curious Case of the Foothill Park Plaza,” regarding the decay and ominous appearance of the Pavilions Shopping Center. One topic I touched on was the increasingly obvious and threatening presence of the dozen or so homeless people who occupied the tables and benches of the center.
The good news is, many of those folks are no longer around. In fact, many of them seem to have found a home.
Unfortunately, that home is under a tree in Library Park.
Over the last two months or so, the area around the war memorials, chess tables and the tree at the corner of Myrtle and Palm has become a cross between a camp ground and a crack den. In recent weeks in my travails along the park’s Eastern edge, I’ve seen at least one apparent drug deal, several folks passed out in sleeping bags, more open containers of (poorly concealed) booze than I can count, one guy hiding up in a tree, and at least one (apparent) drug deal.
During an evening at the start of the recent heat wave, I found my attention split between my toddler’s immense amusement with the nozzles of the park fountain and my desire to protect him from a collection of sketchy characters 50 feet away. In between, questions of what sort of personal hygiene the fountain might be used for in the middle of the night passed through my mind.
About a decade ago, I managed the PR effort for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority as they launched an effort to end homelessness in LA. Several times a month I ventured down to skid row and stepped over people who had hit the bottom of life at terminal velocity. I soon learned the politics of homelessness are nearly impossible.
We were prevented from doing a major press conference at the headquarters of a highly successful women’s shelter because it wasn’t government funded. When the big day came, Skid Row was cleaner than it has ever been, thanks to a phalanx of City of Los Angeles street sweepers who moved through at dawn. Apparently the idea that LA’s homeless live in squalor and filth is not acceptable for public consumption. But, God forbid you should get the police to move someone from lying in his own defecation. That will bring a separate phalanx of lawyers and activists parading around.
But, while I saw the complexities, I also saw the simplicities, many of which do not apply to the homeless horde of Library Park. Many of the homeless on Skid Row were prima facia incapable of bettering themselves due to obvious mental incapacity. By contrast, I’ve overheard the Library Park squatters conducting extensive conversations on complex topics. I’ve seen Monrovia PD officers intervene with the homeless around Monrovia countless times, many of whom they know by name.
But, at some point, this is the public’s park (and an expensive one at that), not a private camping ground for a drunken herd. The presence of sleeping bags and other accoutrements of long-term stays should be warnings sign enough.
It is time for the City of Monrovia to take whatever action it legally can to regain control of all of Library Park. This is not an easy proposition. That same phalanx of lawyers and activists will no doubt turn out if the City gets within sniffing distance of the vagrants’ First Amendment rights.
But we have a right to use the park and the library without fear of intimidation or something untoward happening to our kids. MPD officers and Foothill Park Plaza merchants have told me several of the homeless crowd have reputations for violence and volatility, not to mention lengthy arrest records. It is unconscionable that they are allowed to establish what is essentially an observation post less than 150 feet from the front doors of the new library. This is an invitation for disaster.
Something needs to be done. It needs to be fair. It needs to be legal. But it needs to be now.