The treatment of the homeless by the City of Kenai again got an airing at the July 3 city council meeting. Parks will now close overnight in an effort to control their movements.
At the Kenai City Council meeting, City Manager Paul Ostrander walked back his stance from the council's prior meeting that the homeless were the problem and tried to refocus the issue on overnight park safety.
“When we brought this forward, I don't think administration saw this as a homeless issue. This is a, this is a park management issue. And, you know, this is responsible management of our parks similar to what you see across the country. And it really encourages the intended use of the park without having folks in the park after hours that are using it for other purposes that are not the intended use."
At the late June meeting, Ostrander's focus was on clearing out homeless camp waste and ejecting the homeless from the city library.
Last week, Ostrander was informing the city council that he was going to be closing the city's parks -- with a few exceptions -- from midnight to 5 a.m. daily, and reminded the council his informing them was more of a courtesy.
“This is something that administratively we could have instituted, but I felt that it was appropriate particularly because had been discussed before in 2013, to bring it to Council and just have a general discussion with council about this to make sure that the council was also supportive of this move.”)
Vice Mayor Tim Navarre moved to exempt the homeless from park closures, but it died for lack of a second. He nevertheless challenged Ostrander to provide back-up for his assertions that the parks are unsafe because of homeless people.
“I'm not opposed to addressing some concerns, I guess I'd like to see a damage report and what parks they actually do (damage),” Navarre said. “As you know, I am concerned with not allowing any of our homeless families to use a bathroom at one of our parks. If you don't do it there, you're pushing them out into the business sector, whether it be 24-hour gas stations or other things like that.”
Navarre had called for a work session with area homelessness advocates, but Councilman Henry Knackstedt echoed Ostrander’s assertion that the park issue and the homeless issue were separate and the council shouldn’t "over-think" its actions. The council voted 6-1 to concur with Ostrander's closure of the parks, which will be phased in over 30 days.