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 .