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Apr 7, 2014 10:14 PM by LiLi Tan, KSBY News

Neighbors to take back park

The Grover Beach Police Department is holding a meeting Tuesday evening to address homeless issues in Ramona Garden Park.

Chief Jim Copsey says that in the past three years concerns about public drunkenness in the park and in the surrounding blocks have become more apparent. In 2013, police made 93 arrests for public intoxication in Ramona Garden Park. In March, police say a bus driver was assaulted by a man after he refused him service for being drunk.

"The biggest challenge from a police point of view is the alcohol abuse," said Chief Copsey."We haven't had a lot of violent crime associated with vagrants, but more or less it's a quality of life issue. The community as a whole wants to keep the community as a great place to visit."

People's kitchen, a group that hands out meals to people in need and refers people to services, began handing out food in the park last November.

"Seventy percent of the people we service live in Grover Beach. They're not even homeless. They're just really low income and they need some help," said People's Kitchen president Betsy Ehrler, who believes the stigma of homelessness is making neighbors fearful. "They should come down here and talk to people and get to know them."
Eddie, a homeless man who hangs out in Ramona Garden Park, says he does not drink, but he says there are people there on occasion who are "rowdy."

But it is Ramona Garden Park neighbors who are attempting to "take back" the park.

Residents who preferred not to give their names say they don't feel safe in their own community and describe the park as "less than perfect" now. They say they're all for the homeless receiving meals; however, they prefer it happens somewhere else.

While others who are often waiting at the bus stop midday say they've had the opposite experience.

"They're really, really nice to me. Every time they see me, they're always telling my kids hello. One of them actually gave me $20 one time when I was having a picnic with my kids," said Alisa Powe, who transfers buses at the park with her two young children nearly every day.
Chief Copsey says he wants to inform the community on what steps the police department has already taken, and also create a dialogue to come up with ways for people to coexist and get the services that they need.

The community forum is on Tuesday, April 8 at 6:00 p.m. at Ramona Garden Park Center.

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