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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Monroe Park and the Politics of Homelessness

Monroe Park is scheduled for a long overdue remake. Today's RTD reports $6.2 million is slated to implement a master plan that has been years in the making. The plan itself is a grand scheme,almost a pipe dream, but grand nevertheless. I have long been an advocate for what should be the jewel of the Richmond Park system. There has always been a huge stumbling block to park's renewal and that is the large population of homeless and its use by homeless advocates, service providers and churches that use it as a staging ground for their mostly charitable efforts. The result is the park has gained a reputation as unsafe, unpleasant and is largely underused. It is almost an article of faith in modern society that you don't bash the homeless, as least not publicly. Privately you will hear a lot, usually spoken to trusted friends. Nobody wants to be called out as a "hater" or a selfish ingrate. The other end of the spectrum is to publicly berate the homeless as addicts, insane, shiftless abusers of social charity. These people don't care what you think of them, but they mostly operate in anonymity in electronic forums. Either way it is a minefield and near impossible to discuss rationally, but it is central to the renewal of the park.

The first step is to separate the two issues. Monroe Park is a precious resource that has long fallen into disuse. It is also the centerpiece of the VCU campus that takes its name. It is the front yard to other Richmond institutions, including the Landmark Theater, the Sacred Heart Cathedral and Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and it should be the symbol of a new Richmond, attracting families, children, concert goers and visitors to stroll and enjoy Richmond's most historic park. Now it exists most as a symbol civic dysfunction. Ten's on thousands drive by on Belvidere, Franklin and Main Streets and barely give the park a glance, those that do are happy to drive on to their own far safer, but infinitely less interesting parks.

So now the push is on for renewal. I hope we find the money and the will to implement this plan. We will all be rewarded if they can do so. It will take creative solutions to homelessness and expect plenty of push back from the homeless lobby and those who get meaning from helping and serving them. I'm quite sure the solution will not be satisfactory to all, but hopefully it will be a more practical, constructive one than the current arrangement.

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Nathan said...

what, then, do you propose? Move the homeless somewhere else? out of sight out of mind style? I'm sorry, but I don't see how their removal will help them....If you have better suggestions I'd love to hear it, but maybe the reason the park is underused isn't so much actual crime and unsafe people, but racism and classism that causes people to assume these are problems. I spend a lot of time in that park. And aside from some awkward conversations with people who clearly have mental health issues, I've never felt unsafe.

Mo Karn said...

http://www.thewingnutrva.wordpress.com for our response to the proposal for Monroe Park and Charles Samuel's inaccurate statements regarding the situation in the park currently.

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