Norfolk removes park benches

Park_bench_WPCI’ve been following the saga of the removal of park benches in some areas of Ghent. The reason given by the city is that they need to combat crime; it appears, though, the real problem is homelessness in the city.

More than 30 years ago, I was involved with an organization that worked on behalf of the homeless. The problem is a persistent one. While there are places for night sheltering, the big challenge is what to do with the population during the day. I still remember when the bathrooms in the Federal Building, where I worked for the IRS, were fitted with locks; it was done to keep the homeless from using them.

Taking away the benches doesn’t take away the problem. Finding the money for a day center – especially when the city manages to find money for its economic development projects – is a step in the right direction, and one that should have been taken prior to the removal of the benches.  The homeless population will find another location, but the residents will suffer.

Just makes no sense.

Besides, didn’t the mayor announce, in 2004, a plan to end homelessness in 10 years? From a 2006 editorial:

Back in 2004, when Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim set an audacious — maybe absurd — goal of wiping out homelessness in 10 years in the city, it sounded like just another politician writing a check he knew he couldn’t cash. Who would remember the boast in 2014, save critics, if hundreds of homeless men, women and even families still wandered about without a permanent roof over their heads? The problem was seemingly intractable.

Besides, many nonprofit organizations, social service agencies and churches had been a waging a thankless, inertia-laden task of sheltering the homeless for decades. Union Mission, the mega-shelter downtown, had even battled city leaders while trying to find a new headquarters.

So was Fraim being serious?

We are just months away from it being 2014. This latest action, sadly, gives us the answer to the editorial board’s question.



5 thoughts on “Norfolk removes park benches

  1. Fraim was just as serious in 2004 about the homeless as he was when he announced at the “State of the Schools Address” at Norview High the promise of 5 new schools in six years. Six years is up and we have one new school in that time period.

  2. The problem in Stockley Gardens, specifically at the end by Olney Road, is the increase in crime recently. While taking out the benches, which were heavily concentrated at that end of the park, is not a solution for the homeless problem, something has already helped greatly with the crime. It’s unproven whether the bench removal is responsible for that. I suspect the increased police attention is responsible. See the first letter to the editor in today’s Pilot. The people living closest to this site were affected by the crime, not by the homeless population. Those of us who chose to live in Ghent do so knowing that many people traverse the neighborhood, homeless and not homeless. I’ve not been troubled by the homeless. But intimidated by the criminal? Yes. Some of the known homeless have been thrown out of the park by the criminals, being told “this is our bench.” It is unfair to say that those concerned about the criminal activities don’t want the homeless near their houses.

    1. When you say crime, what exactly are you considering crime? Is it people drinking in public on the benches and never actually getting charged with a crime? Or is someone actually getting charged with something?

      I live in Hague Towers and walk from there down Botetourt to Maury, then from Spotswood to Stockely Gardens and back home 2-3 times a day for exercise. I’ll admit before the benches were gone I saw homeless people doing illegal things on the regular. But maybe only a handful of time did I ever see them doing illegal things that directly impacted a resident or anyone else besides their accomplices for that matter.

      So when you say affected by the crime, do you mean you or someone else personally or just the fact that you had to witness from something illegal happen?

  3. Sadly the Pilot is too incompetent or lazy to tell the truth about this issue. Crime stats show nothing better or worse in the past 5 or ten years in that area with most issues being drunks walking home from bars, not homeless people. I walk a route that passes every area where the benches were removed multiple times a day. There are just as many homeless people now as there were 7 years ago when I walked from the Hague to Maury High School 2 times or more per day.

    Now we have unmarked cars with 2-3 officers each driving that area constantly. Pretty ridiculous when you consider the city and police department are too cowardly to actually have done that when there was supposedly a “problem” and arrest the people responsible. NPD uses algorithms based on crime reports and calls for service to determine routes for their police cars. Had there actually been a problem, the police presence would have been increased to deal with it. That didn’t happen.

    A simple FOIA request by the Pilot is all it would have taken to find out which rich campaign donor made the phone call that resulted in these benches being removed. Instead all we get is a couple fluff pieces and one general mention of crime stats with no actual analysis.

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