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Huntridge Circle Park Closure Concerns Neighbors, City

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City of Las Vegas/Twitter

Huntridge Circle Park in Downtown Las Vegas is closed … again.

The park is situated along Maryland Parkway south of Charleston Boulevard in the center of a multi-lane roadway. 

In 2006, the city closed the park for five years after a stabbing involving two homeless people left one person dead. 

For a couple years after that, it was open only on weekends. It reopened in 2013. And it closed again earlier this month.

City Councilman Bob Coffin says the park will be closed through late November for renovation. He couldn't say exactly what projects the city would be working on, but he did say there would be changes to grassy areas and "something new that the neighbors will like."

However, before it closed, neighbors had complained for months about the growing population of homeless in the park, the garbage left behind by those feeding the homeless, and the sense that the park was unusable.

Kathleen Kahr D'Esposito with the Huntridge Neighborhood Association told KNPR's State of Nevada that it has "ceased to be a park." 

She said residents have seen people turn the park into a bicycle chop shop, breaking apart presumably stolen bicycles to be resold. Visitors have found used needles on the ground. They have seen people defecate and urinate in the open. The park's bathrooms had to be closed down and cleaned by a hazardous material team. A man exposed himself to a yoga class at the park, D'Esposito said. 

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And much worse than all of that, in July, an 80-year-old woman who lived a block from the park was beaten and shot by a man neighbors say basically lived at Circle Park.

D'Eposito and other concerned citizens created a Huntridge Circle Park Coalition to find solutions to the continuing problems at the park, including fundraising and cleaning up the park. 

"The general consensus is that park needs to be managed," she said, "It cannot just be left as an open park from 8 in the morning until 5 at night and not be managed," she said.

D'Esposito said there are two types of people at the park: those who are homeless and don't really bother anyone and those who are under the influence of a substance and are a criminal element in the neighborhood.

Despite all of that, she believes the park is "a diamond in the rough."

Because the park is a public space, fencing it off and only allowing people who have a home in the area to access it may not be a workable solution. And the city doesn't have the money or resources to staff the park with city marshals 24 hours a day. 

Councilman Coffin admits that the problems at the park have been there a long time, but he says they are not just about the homeless people who frequent the area. 

He says homelessness is a larger issue in the city and it needs to be addressed. 

Emily Paulsen with the Nevada Homeless Alliance agreed.

She said progress is being made with Southern Nevada's homeless problem, but unless the community really invests in permanent housing, closing off a park just moves homeless people from that park to another part of the city.

"Homelessness is not a crime," she said, "We will continue to have conversations about how to manage homelessness if we don't turn the conversation to, how do we solve it."

Paulsen said a housing-first approach has worked in other cities and it could work here. The housing-first approach is the idea of putting people into stable permanent housing before addressing any other needs like mental health, addiction treatment, and job services.

While that sounds like it would require a lot of money, Paulsen said it actually costs less to provide such wrap-around services than the current approach does.

"We know housing saves our community money," she said, "To ignore the problem, to not invest in these proven housing solutions costs millions more every year."

Guests

Bob Coffin, councilman, City of Las Vegas; Kathleen Kahr D'Esposito, Huntridge Neighborhood Association; Emily Paulsen, Nevada Homeless Alliance

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