Should Cities Convert Their Public Parks to Campgrounds for the Homeless?

The debate over how to handle the problem of homelessness rages. The stark reality is that nearly any proposal that comes down the pike becomes controversial. One proposal that gets trotted out with regularity is to convert certain public parks into campgrounds for the homeless.

The Essential Arguments of Proponents of Converting Some Public Parks to Homeless Campgrounds

There are a number of points that consistently are made by people who support the concept of converting some public parks into campgrounds for homeless people. One such point is the contention that converting a park into a homeless campground provides homeless people with a more stable setting. By this it is meant that homeless people do not have to wander about trying to find a spot to temporarily call their own for a night or two.

Another point made by proponents of this type of conversion program is that it actually serves the needs of other members of the community. These people contend that converting a specific public park to a homeless campground controls the seemingly random growth of homeless encampments in other parts of a community.

Some proponents also forward the idea that a specifically designated park campground for homeless people better recognizes the humanity of these individuals. On some level, providing a designated park provides a space that has been specifically set aside for them.

A contention that is also advanced pertains to sanitation issues. By designating a public park for homeless camping, a community can install sanitary facilities, including toilets and showers.

The Essential Arguments of Opponents of Converting Some Public Parks to Homeless Campgrounds

Before diving into arguments espoused by opponents of converting public parks to homeless campgrounds, there is something of a “strange bedfellows” component to the collection of individuals who oppose converting public parks to homeless campgrounds.

Those opposed to the conversion concept include residents of neighborhoods where a city park eyed for a camp is located. Those opposed also include homeless advocates as well.

When it comes to advocates for the homeless population who are opposed to public park conversion, they argue this is not a meaningful solution. A majority of homeless advocates want more than band-aid remedies to the problem of homelessness. They advocate for long-term solutions that break the cycle homelessness. Building a homeless camp in a public park doesn’t accomplish that objective.

Another argument against converting public parks to homeless campgrounds focuses on the reality that doing so penalizes other people in the community. A majority of people in a community have compassion for homeless people, particularly homeless children. With that said, compassion doesn’t mean that they want to cede public spaces intended for use by the entire community to be utilized as a stopgap measure that doesn’t provide a long-term solution to homelessness.

Concerns about crime and drugs are other points made by opponents to converting public parks to homeless campgrounds. Even strong advocates for homeless people concede that where larger numbers of homeless people congregate, including in encampments or at campgrounds, the crime and drug use rate increase. Because parks tend to be located in the heart of neighborhoods filled with families with children, establishing a homeless campground that would cause an increase in crime as well as drug use is an anathema to these people.

In addition, opponents of park to camp conversion make note that health issues are also associated with homeless camps. Even if some sanitary facilities are placed at a camp, these alone will not eliminate the health issues that accompany a homeless campground. For example, due to the level of drug use at these camps, contaminated needles nearly always are found on the ground and elsewhere in and around these camps.

Opponents also contend that even is a park to campground conversion is billed as temporary, a reality is that once this type of camp is created, closing it is highly challenging.  In addition, the park is likely to be destroyed in the process of using it as a campground.

Summary

In the final analysis, there are reasonable arguments that are being made for and against converting public parks into homeless campgrounds. Yes, this tactic does provide a temporary solution – but, temporary is the operative word.

In the final analysis, people on both sides of the debate seem to be in general agreement that long-term solutions to the problem of homelessness must be developed and implemented. Using another band-aid solution with a multitude of negative attributes arguably is not the proper course to take.

Resources are not boundless when it comes to addressing the problem of homelessness. Thus, strategies designed to aid the homeless population must have eyes trained on truly long-term solutions.