News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 20, 2014

Homeless council decries new Vigo parks camping rules

Parks Board says some people monopolize best sites, wants them open to all that want to visit parks

TERRE HAUTE — A council of agencies that serve the homeless is questioning a Vigo County park policy that limits time for camping.

Muriel Ryan, co-founder of Families By Choice, Tuesday told members of the Wabash Valley Planning Council on Homeless for Region 7 she thinks a new county park policy that requires individuals to leave a campsite after 14 days should be repealed. The policy states those campers must leave a park campground for no less than 7 days.

“The county is making a change because they have become aware of who is there and I think that is discriminatory,” of homeless individuals, Ryan said after the meeting.

Previously, county campsites could be rented for up to 30 days. The new 14-day limit matches that of current polices in Indiana public parks. After 14 days, “all individuals occupying the campsite must vacate the campground for no less than 7 days,” the new Vigo park policy states, which also matches state park policies.

Another change involves the U.S. Postal Service. The new county policy, passed last month, states that “no camper shall use a Vigo County park address as a legal mailing address. Any personal mail received at a park address will be immediately returned to the sender.”

Ryan, a member of the Council on Homeless, said people staying in campgrounds “is a safety net. These people are proud that they can pay for their lots. Hawthorn Park has a reputation as being a place that you can go,” she said, adding some people last year stayed from almost the first day to nearly the end of the camping season.

Dottye Crippen, program director for Bethany House for Catholic Charities, said “we have taken in several families over the last few years waiting to get into Bethany House from Hawthorn Park. We have helped quite a few families” who had stayed in the county parks.

“These people pay the same fees that everybody else gets charged,” Ryan said. “The 33 people I met [last year] had a greater sense of pride, greater sense of independence and had a plan to get out of being homeless.”

Jeff Lorick, president of the council, said he wanted the council to first invite a member of the Park Board to discuss “the ideal and the thought behind creating such a policy. If we cannot get one of the board members to come to share that information, then we sign off on a letter as agencies and present it at board meeting. I don’t believe in starting a fire before you light the match. I believe in giving them an opportunity to come and share their thoughts and concerns that maybe we are not aware.”

Lorick said Tuesday after the meeting that he had contacted Peggy Harlan, president of the Vigo County Parks Board, who agree to talk to the council at a June 3 meeting.

Contacted Tuesday, Harlan said the board did not target the homeless when it voted on the new park policy last month.

“They are county parks, they can’t be a place for people to have as their address or home,” Harlan said. “The parks need to be available to everybody. If people stay, like they used to before with the 30 days, it does limit the number of people who get to use any park,” Harlan said.

“We have had some people who are very thankful for doing this as they have not been able to get the best places at the park because someone else has them for 30 days, then [campers] change among themselves. It is not targeting the homeless people at all, but makes the parks more available to more people. That is what we want, more people to come to our parks and enjoy them,” Harlan said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

 

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