A troubled Tucson park wants a $3 million makeover

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -A survey of residents who live within a mile of Santa Rita Park at 22nd Street and Fourth Avenue shows many families don’t use the park because they don’t feel safe.

“The public told us the loved this park but it hasn’t been improved in a long time,” said Sierra Boyer, an administrator for the Parks and Recreation Department. “They don’t feel there’s enough for families to do.”

She added, “They don’t feel safe going to the park.”

And that’s because for years police have responded to the park for shootings, knife fights, assaults and domestic violence, many in broad daylight.

When the city forced the homeless out of downtown in 2017, many of them ended up at Santa Rita Park where they’ve taken up residence and often create problems.

Families have said they’ve been accosted at the park, been panhandled and verbally abused.

Things have gotten so bad, the city turned off the water to the entire park and closed the restrooms.

“You don’t turn your parks into a wasteland to try to drive homeless people away,” said Steve Kozachik, Ward 6 City Council member. “That’s not a solution to the community and it’s not a solution to homelessness.”

But the city is looking at a solution which may bring families back and could end the homeless problem there.

The Mayor and Council will pass the Santa Rita Masterplan to improve the park next week.

An artists rendering can be seen here.

It will add a soccer field, most softball fields, a splash pad, skate park, children’s playground and a dog park and other amenities at a cost of more than $3 million.

The money will come from a $225 million bond package approved by the voters in 2018 for parks.

Those amenities will provide more space for family friendly activities and reduce the space for the homeless to encamp making it safer.

“What I mean by safer is we’re adding security lighting and improving the flow of the park,” Boyer said. “So it will be more friendly to families who want to come out and enjoy this space.”

An admirable goal according to Kozachik but one fraught with problems.

“I think it’s great that we’re upgrading the park and the voters absolutely support that, that’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “But if we are simply, if we’re upgrading our parks as a strategy to addressing homelessness, that’s a fools errand, that’s a losers game.”

Kozachik would like to see areas set aside for homeless communities where they can sleep outside if they want but have all the amenities they need to exist, like toilets, running water and a roof over their heads, such as a tent.

Just moving them from place to place doesn’t solve the problem.

“We’re simply moving people from one park to another, from one ally to another, from one wash to another,” He said. “It’s a waste of time, money, resources and it’s dehumanizing.”

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