Lodi Officials Search for Solutions to Alleviate Homeless Issues in Lawrence Park

LODI -- City officials in Lodi are dealing with a homeless problem that has plagued other communities in the region.

They are now mulling the idea of completely closing one of its oldest parks because it has become a safety issue.

City parks officials admit that tree-shaded Lawrence Park, across from the Lodi Grape Festival fairgrounds, is inviting. But about the only people accepting the invitation these days are a daily population of homeless individuals and groups.

"They’re a nuisance," said Martin Jones, adjutant for Lodi's American Legion, which sits next to the park.

Jones said drug use, littering, break-ins and theft make it tough for the public to schedule events at the hall.

"It makes it hard for us to get rentals, people know they know they’re out there," Jones said.

Other neighboring businesses and residents also have crime and nuisance issues.

The city closed down the restrooms a year ago because they were a sanitation hazard and were littered with syringes. Not to mention, school kids walk by the area every day.

"There are a lot of things going on at that restroom that children shouldn’t be exposed to," said Lodi Parks and Recreation Department Director Jeff Wood.

Not only were restrooms closed, park benches, picnic tables and barbecue grills were removed, in part because destructive bonfires were built in the park.

Now the Parks and Recreation Commission is talking about building a fence around the park to keep people out.

"Close the park off on a temporary basis to try to alleviate some of the concerns," Wood said.

The homeless people FOX40 spoke with who didn’t want to appear on camera said they are being punished for the actions of a few. They feel the city is making a tough situation harder.

But the city said public safety is the reason for considering drastic measures. Wood said the homeless community has a right to use the park.

"It’s not illegal to be homeless," Wood said. "What is illegal is the drug use, the defecating in public, urinating in public, stealing neighbor’s property."

Meanwhile, Jones doubts that closing the park by fencing it off will help.

"We have a fence around our place," Jones said. "We even put up razor wire. They still find a way in."

He said the state or federal government has to take on the larger issue of homelessness.

"I mean city at a local level cannot handle it," Jones said.

Another solution is to try and get more public use out of the park and engage the community, using something like a new dog park. But that can include added costs with no guarantee of working.