Local News

Some Say Additional Shelter Needed if Homeless Evicted from Parks

Posted July 29, 1998

— Raleigh's city manager has come up with a way to clean up downtown parks. He wants to make it illegal for homeless people to sleep in the parks during daylight hours. But some say fines and jail time simply aren't the answers to the city's homeless problem.

It's not uncommon to see people taking a mid-afternoon nap on a park bench in downtown Raleigh. Soon, however, it may be a crime punishable by a $50 fine or 30 days in jail. The city manager says the homeless are keeping the public away from downtown parks.

"Our obligation is to make sure [the parks] are well maintained and the public feels invited to use them," said Raleigh City Manager Dempsey Benton.

One of the biggest concerns downtown merchants have is that people sleeping in the parks will scare away their business.

Restaurant owner Vic Calonder says the proposed law is needed.

"I think it's good. I think it needs to happen. I think it's long overdue," said Calonder.

But not everyone agrees, and that includes Wake County Sheriff John Baker.

"I can't go along with it because our jail is very overcrowded with people who have committed serious crimes," said Baker.

Homeless advocates believe the answer is to open another shelter.

"Right now, the county has nowhere to put a shelter and there's a definite need for a shelter," said Sam Foster, director of the Raleigh Rescue Mission. "Maybe some of this could be helped by having a shelter. I know it could be."

The subject of opening another shelter has been discussed for years. Raleigh's city manager says it's time to take some real action. But to date, Wake County and the City of Raleigh have not been able to agree on a location for a joint homeless shelter. The city council will take up the city manager's proposal concerning sleeping in the park at its meeting next week.

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