Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Having Home Isn't a Park Requirement

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Having Home Isn't a Park Requirement

Article excerpt

Just a couple of blocks north of Sarasota's Main Street is a nice public park ringed mostly by modest single-family homes.

Gillespie Park is owned by the city and has a pond, a walking path, playground equipment, a few tennis courts, some shady oaks and a picnic pavilion. There is also a quirky, much-ignored collection of busts of historic figures.

Abraham Lincoln, Jose Marti, Simon Bolivar and Ingacio Agramonte, for instance. I know who three of those four guys are, and all three are associated with liberation of the downtrodden in some way. In case that is relevant.

Anyway, you can stroll through the park, and so can I, because it is public, as I said. I do so once in awhile.

Some people would like to change that, to keep the riff-raff out.

Most of the time the park is quiet and not a major attraction for hordes of visitors. It is enjoyed most by nearby residents, and some local charter school students come on certain days in their physical education togs to play informal games of soccer or Frisbee. But it is also a sporadic hangout for some chronically homeless people.

At times, homeless people take over a corner of the park for much of the day.

Not that they chase other people away intentionally. But when a half-dozen or maybe a dozen sit in the park's only pavilion and use the picnic tables for hours at a time, other people tend to stay away from them.

Of course, those homeless people need a spot like that, especially when they have been harassed out of whatever spot they were loitering in previously. The pavilion's tables are shaded, out of the rain. Better yet, it keeps them out of sight and out of mind for downtown merchants and business customers a few blocks away.

But they are somewhat in sight and sometimes much in the minds of the park's neighbors.

Security incidents are rare. The pavilion is a few steps from a Sarasota Police Department substation. Whenever homeless people show up, cops start parking there.

That's a good thing, except when police over-do it. Like, for instance, when one cop infamously arrested a homeless man for theft of city property because he was charging his cell phone at an electrical outlet.

The charge was dismissed, because it was obvious to those less intent on harassing the homeless that the receptacle was there for use by the public, and because the cost of charging a phone is a fraction of a penny. …

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