Several Union residents are upset about activity by people without homes in and around city parks, accusing them of drug use, lewd conduct and theft.
Jack Wissmann, who lives near the City Park pavilion and Splash-N-Swimplex, said ornaments have been stolen from his yard, and a woman came to a neighbor’s house several times in one night, asking for money and drugs.
“It’s just an ongoing, ongoing thing,” he told members of the board of aldermen at their Monday, Sept. 21, parks, buildings, development and public service committee meeting. “They live all over the place back there.”
Among the places Wissmann said people set up camp is near the Sunset Health Care senior home and behind the pool.
Another resident described his grandchildren being present when a man took his pants off before driving off, while another described drug use near Union Middle School.
Police Chief Andrew Parker told aldermen that officers ran off at least 10 people from the park area last weekend. While the parks are open to anyone during the day, he said people can be removed if they break the law or park rules. “There are mental health issues that go along with this, along with alcohol and drug abuse with most of them,” he said.
And after hours, unless an approved event is going on, Parker encouraged Wissmann and other residents to call the police if they see something going on in the park.
Alderman Bob Schmuke said the city has an elaborate camera system in parts of the parks, so he urged residents to take note of the time an incident happens so police can review video.
Pat Hoeft, who lives on West Main Street, suggested adding more lighting to the parks.
“Once or twice a night somebody needs to walk through that park, because it is bad,” he said.
The woman who approached Wissmann’s neighbor was taken to the hospital and assisted, Parker said.
The problem seems to be isolated to the parks near Union Middle School. Parker said he has only heard of a few isolated incidents of people hanging out in Veterans Memorial Park, on the southeast side of town.
Wissmann and Hoeft said some hide out in the brush along Flat Creek. While some suggested cutting the brush, City Administrator Jonathan Zimmermann said the city had problems with banks collapsing during flooding and is restricted in what it can cut by federal and state agencies.
Zimmermann and Mayor Rod Tappe were planning to discuss the homeless issue with the Franklin County Community Resource Board Tuesday, Sept. 22, Tappe said. They will also attend a homelessness task force meeting.
“It’s not just a Union problem, it is a Franklin County problem,” Tappe said. “And that resource board has funding and ideas and things, and we’re going to learn to try to combat homelessness in not just Union but Franklin County.”
After talking about homelessness with police chiefs in other cities, Parker said Washington has about 10 to 15 people who are permanently without homes, along with some transients, with issues at the train station because it isn’t locked at night. Meanwhile, St. Clair has about 30 people without homes, who hang out in the parks and business district.