Since the clean up along the Stanislaus River corridor near Costless Market and Kerr Park, complaints have increased regarding the transient population invading local parks, most notably Dorada Park, as they search for new places to inhabit.
Ron Smith*, a man who has lived with a view of Dorada Park for the past 17 years, is fed up with the blight on the children’s play park and is looking for solutions to the problem that is not only dragging down the neighborhood but presenting a health and safety issue to the children.
“They’ve chosen Dorada Park as their home and it’s not their home — it’s a park. I empathize with their situation but they put themselves there,” Smith said. “The children’s play park is a jewel for the city and we have these leeches sucking the value out of it.”
Police are familiar with some of the repeat offenders, transients who have a history of drunken, belligerent behavior, and often cruise by the parks on security checks but Smith said the transients are wise to the system and avoid arrest even if they are breaking the law.
“They know how to manipulate the system,” Smith alleged. “They know they can’t have alcohol in the park but I’ve seen them pour their alcohol into their soda bottles. So when the officer comes by it looks like they’re just drinking a Coke.”
Smith also said he’s seen the transients charging their cell phones on the electricity pole designed to be used by families for birthday parties, etc.
“The problem is we treat them too nice,” Smith said. “They have everything they need at Dorada…water, electricity, and a bathroom. We used to lock the bathrooms at night. Maybe we should go back to that.”
Lt. Lester Jenkins of the Oakdale Police Department can certainly understand citizens’ frustration but there is a flip side, particularly regarding the bathroom situation.
“I’d much rather have them using the restrooms than the play structure or the grass because you know they will. They don’t care,” Jenkins said.
Cheryl Bolin, Parks and Recreation Director, is looking into the electricity pole issue to see if there’s a way to prevent the transients from using it without restricting it from the people it was designed for.
Although it may seem the transient issues have blossomed since the clean up, Jenkins said the two main offenders, a man and a woman with a history of alcohol abuse, were not living down by the river.
“The problem is the same as it was before the river clean up,” Jenkins said. “They’ll pick a spot and stay there a while and then when we kick them out, they find another spot.”
It’s a constant shuffle and migration that has no end but Jenkins said the police department is working with the District Attorney’s office on a habitual drunkard program that will enable officers to make arrests and the judges can levy stiffer penalties.
But citizens, such as Smith, can help officers by calling whenever the transients are creating a problem, advised Jenkins.
“Citizens can help by being aware and giving us a call when a crime is being committed. Get a description of the perpetrator,” Jenkins said.
But the problem has another side as well, Smith said.
The people who are — perhaps unwittingly — making the situation worse.
“At least once a month there’s a homeless potluck,” Smith said. “I’ve watched as two different people have brought ice chests of food to the park for the homeless. They think they’re helping but they’re not. Why don’t they invite them into their own front yards and feed them? These people have it too good. They’re living for free. They have to conform to society like the rest of us.”
Smith said although his children are grown, if he still had young children he wouldn’t allow them to play in the park.
“It’s a health and safety issue. You don’t know what the transients are bringing to the park. And you know, residents might know to keep their kids away from the play park but tour buses pull up to the park everyday. School buses take field trips to the park. They don’t know what might be hiding in the sand.”
Smith said the problem is getting progressively worse and he would like to see the community get involved with the solution.
“Check the municipal codes,” Smith said. “We can get them on a number of violations. Even though it’s just a violation of a city ordinances, they’ll get fined and if they can’t pay their fine, eventually it’ll add up and they’ll get arrested.”
Anyone interested in joining their local Neighborhood Watch, can call Brea deRespini at 845-3630 at the Oakdale Parks and Recreation Department for more information.
(* Name has been changed)