CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — All month long, KRIS 6 News is running a series of stories in our special report -- Homeless Corpus Christi: Crisis on our Streets. Tonight's story takes a close look at homelessness in parks; the problems it causes, and what the city and Corpus Christi Police are doing about it.
"The parks belong to the people of the city, and their tax dollars pay for these parks," said city councilmember at-large Paulette Guajardo.
Blucher Park made headlines this fall when Guajardo and her fellow council members passed an ordinance banning from the park cooking supplies, bedding, camping gear, and other items associated with homeless camping. Some people protested, saying the homeless were being unfairly targeted. But Guajardo said Blucher Park is a unique case.
"We've got an ordinance that was put forth at Blucher Park, and that was rightful because of the deed for that particular park," Guajardo said.
The deed the Blucher Family signed over to the city in the 1940s stipulates that the park be kept as a sanctuary for migratory birds. The city was concerned that it was in violation of that stipulation with homeless camping going on there.
So if the homeless aren't in Blucher Park, where did they go?
It's likely they moved down Tancahua Street to South Bluff Park.
"We have more people hanging out there," Assistant Police Chief Mark Schauer said. "We don't know if they're homeless or not. So, if you drive by and see people at the picnic tables you may think some people are homeless, and they may not be."
Homeless or not, Schauer says if they're spending the whole day in that park, it poses another problem.
"The lack of bathrooms in some of the parks: That's a problem," Schauer said.
Parker Park in Flour Bluff is another one that doesn't have restrooms. What it does have is a covered pavilion next to a senior center, posing even more issues.
"The area that they depend on to use as seniors is being taken over where they can't use it with the defecation or drug problem or having-sex problem, which has been also reported," Schauer said.
While those more serious crimes do lead to arrests, Schauer said his officers prefer simply to communicate with the homeless when they're in violation of camping or curfew ordinances. He said taking someone who doesn't have a home to jail on a Class C Misdemeanor often is unproductive.
"There are really no repercussions," Schauer said. "One of our conditions is you have to have an address. We can't serve you or find you without an address."
The city's new Homeless Office could go a long way toward solving some of the problems. Three city employees will try to organize the efforts of dozens of community organizations that support the homeless.
"We're very excited about what that department is going to bring to the table," Guajardo said.
The city Council might also get more involved following the apparent success of the Blucher Park ordinance they passed.
"We're actively looking at other parks to see how we can better manage this issue," Guajardo said.