Forum: Changes at Clark Park won’t fix city’s homeless crisis

Displacing from a park those who are homeless doesn’t solve the underlying and related problems.

By Shannon Ramsey / Herald Forum

I’ve lived in Everett since 2007. I took my kids to Clark Park to play when they were little, served ice cream from the gazebo for the annual night out against crime. Easter egg hunts, birthday parties, etc. at Clark Park. At least up until around 2015, the park was a shared community space where a mix of people gathered on a regular basis (“Everett to replace historic Clark Park gazebo with a new dog park,” The Herald, Jan. 29).

Between an epidemic of opioid and meth addiction, the covid pandemic, rising housing costs, decreased mental health and substance treatment services, the shortage of emergency, transitional and affordable housing, our foster care system, and the end of the eviction moratorium, we are seeing more people in unsafe and desperate conditions, unsheltered and vulnerable, on our streets and in our parks and public spaces.

Everett has tried no sit-no lie ordinances, putting up fencing to prevent people from camping, increasing public trespassing enforcement and other incarceration-based approaches. Recently The Herald wrote about an increase in police positions in the budget as well as an increased number of people incarcerated for minor offenses like trespassing, subsequent possession charges, or disorderly conduct. The length of days in jail for these crimes has also increased. All this comes with a cost while our city also reports a budget deficit.

We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Sobriety-based housing requirements will not fix this. We’re talking about heroin, fentanyl, meth. We’re talking about complicated scenarios involving disability, social services, personal trauma, language barriers, addiction, domestic violence, all compounding the chronic stress of lacking basic shelter and necessities.

Removing the gazebo will not make the park safer, nor will building a dog park. The park will be safer when people who live on the streets have a place to sleep, and whatever kind of social services and economic support their specific situation requires. Until we do that, people who don’t have a place to go, will still not have a place to go.

Everett just received several million dollars from the opioid settlement with Johnson & Johnson. What is the city planning to do with the settlement funds? Where is the money to build the dog park and remove the gazebo coming from? I thought we were operating with a structural deficit?

In my opinion, removing the gazebo is a symbol of city leadership’s lack of vision. If we provide the housing and support people need and fund community activities in Clark Park, we can change the environment to be something vibrant again.

It’s a beautiful space with trees and a playground but when we make it unwelcoming to our most vulnerable, we make it unwelcoming to everyone.

Shannon Ramsey lives in Everett.

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