California Parks & Recreation Society Publication

In August 2017, Grace Weltman’s  arti­cle titled ” Home­less­ness in Parks and Recre­ation Spaces: Col­lab­o­ra­tion Essen­tial”  was pub­lished in the Sum­mer edi­tion of the Cal­i­for­nia Parks and Recre­ation Soci­ety Mag­a­zine.

Excerpts from the arti­cle:

Home­less­ness through­out Cal­i­for­nia has increased, while the major­i­ty of oth­er cities and regions have expe­ri­enced decreas­es. Based on 2016 data on home­less counts con­duct­ed through­out the Unit­ed States (U.S.), four out of the top ten cities in the U.S. with the high­est num­bers of home­less per­sons are in Cal­i­for­nia . The impact on park and recre­ation space is even more seri­ous in cities with high­er rates of unshel­tered home­less per­sons, because their options are usu­al­ly in pub­lic spaces, on the street and any­where they can stay or sleep. For instance, in Los Ange­les Coun­ty, two-thirds of the home­less pop­u­la­tion is unshel­tered, which has result­ed in street home­less­ness to be at an epi­dem­ic lev­el. In many cities, park and recre­ation facil­i­ties are nat­ur­al spaces where home­less peo­ple may try to set­tle and stay, mak­ing com­mu­ni­ty space inac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple who use park and recre­ation spaces for exer­cise, play, sports, com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ings, and oth­er pur­pos­es..

Col­lab­o­ra­tion and Coor­di­na­tion is Essen­tial

The lack of resources, infor­ma­tion and train­ing is a result of no or min­i­mal coor­di­na­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion with­in a com­mu­ni­ty.  Parks and recre­ation is a crit­i­cal part­ner, often over­looked as con­trib­u­tors and part­ners.  Accord­ing to the 2017 study on “Home­less­ness in Parks” con­duct­ed by the Nation­al Recre­ation and Parks Asso­ci­a­tion (NRPA)[1], “The solu­tions to home­less­ness are not held to just one gov­ern­ment agency or to a sin­gle non­prof­it agency. It will take a coor­di­nat­ed strat­e­gy across the vast resources of both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor to tack­le these issues.  Park and recre­ation agen­cies, in their role of serv­ing all mem­bers of their com­mu­ni­ty, will be an inte­gral part of the solu­tion”.

When faced with home­less­ness, parks and recre­ation staff and lead­ers should work to not them­selves feel alone or iso­lat­ed.  Due to the com­plex­i­ties of home­less­ness, it takes a mul­ti­tude of agen­cies and orga­ni­za­tions to work togeth­er.  Expert out­reach staff rep­re­sent­ing men­tal and health ser­vices, hous­ing providers, non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions serv­ing the home­less, law enforce­ment, city and coun­ty lead­ers, com­mu­ni­ty res­i­dents, and peo­ple with lived home­less expe­ri­ence are just some of the kinds of stake­hold­ers you may need at the table.  The NPRA study also assert­ed in their report: “The issues sur­round­ing home­less­ness are com­plex and touch many aspects of the com­mu­ni­ty.  As a result, mit­i­gat­ing home­less­ness can­not be the sole respon­si­bil­i­ty of one agency or one depart­ment with­in a city.  In all, nine out of 10 urban park and recre­ation agency direc­tors report that their city has tac­tics and strate­gies in place to alle­vi­ate home­less­ness in the com­mu­ni­ty.

[1] Vis­it the Nation­al Recre­ation and Parks Asso­ci­a­tion web­site to access the report at http://www.nrpa.org .