Community Outcry: Residents Demand Empathy and Hospitality for Homeless Individuals in Culliton Park

Several residents and advocates from various city neighborhoods voiced their concerns at the City Council meeting on Tuesday regarding an incident that took place in Culliton Park on Monday involving the police and homeless individuals.

They reported that the police had seized and discarded the personal belongings of the homeless individuals who often gather or sleep in the park. Activist Sean Domencic noted that such “sweeps” had occurred previously and, given that it was the city’s Welcoming Week, he called upon the city government to show more hospitality and empathy towards “our most impoverished neighbors.”

Carole Kirchner, a resident near the park, recounted a conversation she had on Monday with Michelle, a regular at the park, who informed her that the police had taken her backpack containing essential documents and identification.

Kirchner emphasized the need to improve the situation for these individuals, stating, “We must do better for these people.”

Nonprofit organizations and individual volunteers have been making dedicated efforts to assist those living on the streets, providing essentials like sleeping bags and identification. When these items are discarded, it hinders the progress made by all parties involved.

Milan Koneff, an outreach worker with Tenfold, expressed the challenge of finding permanent solutions for homeless individuals and mentioned that he had been unable to refer anyone to a suitable shelter for over a year.

Regarding the incident, police spokeswoman Stacia Kirchner explained that an officer had noticed untidy conditions in the park the preceding Thursday. The officer had instructed a group of individuals to clean up the area and informed them of a follow-up on Monday.

On Monday, the officer found scattered possessions, including a mattress, near the children’s playground area. The officer asked the group to remove their belongings, but some unattended items were collected by Public Works staff.

Mayor Danene Sorace acknowledged the city’s efforts to expand resources for homelessness, including a partnership with the county Homelessness Coalition to add 40 more shelter beds in Lancaster by December 1. She also stressed the importance of having consistent policies across all city parks.

There have been ongoing discussions about providing lockers for individuals living on the streets to safely store their possessions, but challenges related to management and supervision still need to be addressed.

Culliton Park falls under the SoWe neighborhood revitalization organization’s jurisdiction, and its director, Amos Stoltzfus, chose not to comment on the incident.

Michelle, mentioned by Kirchner, is part of Hand Up Partners, an initiative launched by grassroots outreach volunteer Dave Costarella. She participates in daily cleanup efforts in Culliton Park and on Water Street. Costarella informed City Council members about the positive impact of Hand Up Partners’ work, highlighting the transformation in cleanliness and the human connections made.

Sean Domencic has been advocating for a “right to rest” policy, allowing unhindered shelter and sleep in city parks, and he accused City Council, the mayor, and police of “oppressing the homeless.” He emphasized the need for accountability.

Korman clarified that the police do not single out homeless individuals for enforcement, stating that everyone must adhere to park rules. Officers usually issue verbal warnings before taking enforcement actions for violations.

She emphasized the Police Bureau’s commitment to maintaining park safety and responding to calls for service to protect the public’s health and safety.

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