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Re: Community Greening and the Homeless

  • Subject: Re: [cg] Community Greening and the Homeless
  • From: Alliums <garlicgrower@earthlink.net>
  • Date: Thu, 19 Aug 2004 10:11:10 -0400

Jim wrote:

The Senior Center administration is now considering removing most of the
landscaping because the
homeless are sleeping in various plantings (pampas grass, etc.).

It amazes me how "folks in charge" are so quick to just remove landscaping rather than alter it or work with the community to solve the larger problem that is giving them THEIR problem. The idea that a landscape is not a building, but can be altered, rather than removed to solve problems just escapes these people unless the points are very carefully laid out. "Just getting rid of it" is so much easier! Grrrrrrrrrrrr!

There is a Homeless Shelter within 3 miles of this area with plenty of space

This should be your first stop -- if they have lots of space to fill, it behooves them to go out there and fill it -- otherwise, funding has a nasty tendency to dry up. Invite them to have lunch with the Senior Center folks -- the Shelter folks may be able to give tips on how to discourage the homeless from the gazebo and into the shelter. Also, the shelter folks might be able to give a "direct line" phone number to the Senior Center folks so that when anyone sees homeless folks on the property, they can call the Shelter and someone will come out and get them. (This has worked very successfully for my mother for years -- her house's architecture matches the church next door, so folks immediately assume it's a parsonage. My mother has 24/7 access to the local Salvation Army post-- if someone comes to her door, she can promise them a Salvation Army officer in minutes. Those who genuinely want help are grateful -- those who don't tend to disappear and never come back.)

Next stop should be the local police. Politely (food from your garden or flowers to brighten up the station always get you noticed) mention that this is a problem and you'd really appreciate it if they would stop by regularly and take those who want help to the Shelter and arrest the others for public drunkness. Elderly people being menaced by drunks is bad PR, so play up the angle.

Since you're finding booze bottles, another stop might be the local AA chapters. They might be interested in offering help to these folks.

While you're talking to everyone, see if the shelter, police, AA offer community service projects. Getting the homeless and/or alcoholics to do community service on the property to clean up the litter and bottles can go a long way toward getting the problem to disappear -- especially if the Shelter offers community service. When the residents go back on the street, they will NOT be happy with their peers junking up the place so that they have to clean it every other day. (This is working great with the adjudicated youth we work with in the garden -- they are constantly having to tidy up and clean up after the little project kids and it makes them realize just how much work this stuff generates such that they swear off doing such things themselves AND tell the little project kids to knock it off themselves.)

Okay, as for the landscape itself, trimming the shrubs is good and lighting will work if the police are asked to patrol regularly. You might also want to add some nice perennials with truly vicious thorns (mock orange looks lovely and is DEADLY!) and/or some annuals like cleome (people love them, but gosh, those thorns are nasty -- surrounding my tomatoes with them has really deterred the deer). Mulching with rock also looks nice and is very bumpy to sleep on -- especially if you use sharp rocks!

I never thought a landscape architect would have to consider issues such as
this when designing a landscape.

Ha! Welcome to community space design. Whether it's the homeless or drug dealers, one always has to plan how to attract the people you want to use an open, relatively public space and how to discourage those you want to simply move on. It's a multi-pronged process, but if you combine resources in the community with "attractive, but nasty to sit on" landscaping, everything should work out just fine.


Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460

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