*Important update* 11/07/10
*The link to the Monroe Park Master Plan has been retrieved thanks to a friend that had the forethought to save the pdf to their computer. It can be uploaded through Monroe Park Master Plan
To upload this to your computer, click this link, look to the left under "view this book" and right click "pdf". Then select "Save File As" and save it to your computer. It is a large file, 66MB, and contains a 130 page pdf. The main point that I wanted to make from this pdf is the statement regarding "The ratio of nonhomeless users to apparently homeless ones must be at least 75-100:1 to draw female visitors in great numbers.", which can be found on page 61 on the bottom of the left column. This pdf also talks about the hiring of private security that may not have to abide by the same guidelines as police officers when dealing with 'apparently homeless' people.*
Monroe Park is currently at the center of the latest heated community debates. Originally purchased in 1851 by the City of Richmond, the 11 acre park is now in need of major renovations. The City of Richmond has designed a master plan to renovate the park, at the cost of $6,179,000 taxpayer dollar for Phase One, which is called Park-wide Renovations. Phase Two, costing $1,051,000 would cover repairs to the Checkers Building which houses the bathrooms. Phase Three, called Site Amenities, is priced at $623,000. This is then followed with $1,150,000 for Programmatic Costs. This information is available at http://www.fmd.vcu.edu/MonroeParkMasterPlan.pdf. There was another link that explained the plan more thoroughly but the link to that no longer appears to be active. This link here appears to break down the costs a little more extensively, http://thewingnutrva.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/monroe-park-costs/.
I don't take up any issue with making repairs to the park. I believe the bathrooms should be in good working order, that there should be heat in them to keep the pipes from freezing during the winter. I think that some of the trees probably are unhealthy, although proper preventive maintenance probably would have prevented them from getting to the point where they need to be cut down. I agree that the lights could be upgraded to more energy efficient models that will produce more output. I don't necessarily agree that some of the blacktop paths should be completely removed, but I'm not very opinionated about the paths.
My main issue with the renovation is the tactic at which the City of Richmond is handling the homeless, and "apparently homeless" people that congregate in the park and receive meals from organizations and caring, compassionate people. In the master plan that is not currently available it was mentioned that the only way to get females to use the park was to reduce the ratio of "apparently homeless" people to 1 per 75-100 'apparently not homeless' people. This means if the city hit the projected number of patrons, about 900 at any given time, that there should only be 9-10 "apparently homeless" people in the public park. Supposedly if there are more than a 1:75-100 ratio, females will be afraid to be in the park.
So after reading the plan, talking to people using the park, and people that serve meals in the park, I decided to attend the meeting that Councilman Charles Samuels held in conjunction with Homeward at The Carillon in Dogwood Dell last night. It was put out as a public meeting to discuss where the homeless will best be served after the 9 foot tall construction fence is built around the entire 11 acres, which is estimated to remain in place for about 18 months. I arrived at the meeting and found about a dozen round tables set out with approximately 8 chairs per table. There were a few opening speakers, Councilman Samuels, a member from Homeward, a member from Embrace, and a man that has successfully won his battle with addiction and homelessness. After the introduction we were informed that the meeting was not designed to allow any one person to address their concerns openly, but we were to discuss amongst our table members what solutions there are for feeding the homeless after the wall goes up.
Now this didn't set well with me. I was there because I don't want to see the entire park closed for about 18 months, but instead done in sections, leaving some open grassy areas open for public use at any given time. It's similar to renovating a school, the renovations are made around the students. Similar to fixing a couple rooms in your house while you live in the un-renovated parts.
My table began discussions and almost immediately the whole table came to the conclusion that the park cannot be fully closed at any point. So where does that leave us? The eight strangers at my table wanted to voice their concerns to Councilman Samuels, not sit around talking about how we were all in agreement already and not being listened to by the meeting leaders. I called Samuels to our table and informed him that none of us agreed with building a wall around the park. He told me that we need to address it as if "the wall is going up, so where are we going to send the homeless people". I mentioned that his response would not be accepted by our group and he did not budge from his position. We were asked to come up with alternatives, and our group collectively agreed that (1) a small portion of the park must remain open, (2) portable toilets and hand sanitizing stations need to be provided while the bathroom is inaccessible, and (3) there needs to be a representative for the homeless community -not a paid shelter employee- and a representative for the VCU student body at any future meeting regarding Monroe Park.
At the conclusion of the meeting the room was asked to send one person from each table to report on what their small group had discussed. It seemed to me that the majority of the people in the room were in favor of keeping a portion of the park open, one even suggesting providing facilities to help with food preparation for the regular feedings. Another suggestion was to transport everyone down to the Conrad Center every weekend and have feedings there, which apparently is in the works. ($20,000 has been raised in effort to meet a $25,000 budget for 6 months transportation from Monroe Park to the Conrad Center.) I'm not really sure how they figure it'd cost $1,000 per weekend to run a vehicle they already have...
I left the meeting last night feeling that my concerns will never be considered, that the meeting was called to pacify the people opposing the 9 foot wall by letting them believe they have a fighting chance. It has left me with more questions than answers. Now I want to know what role VCU has played in encouraging the wall, what funding is coming from them. I want to know how much the CEO's of the non-profit homeless shelters are making, I'm guessing somewhere around $150,000 per year, but I haven't seen their 990 forms yet. I want to know if this is a direct attempt to try to flush the apparently homeless population from the VCU area, figuring that within 18 months they will be in the habit of going somewhere else and not ever return to Monroe Park after it reopens. I don't see that working. They will return. The park is for people, all people, regardless of how apparently poor, dirty, or hungry you may appear.
*THIS UPDATE CAN NOW BE DISREGARDED, AS THE FILE HAS BEEN RETRIEVED AND IS BEING RECIRCULATED NOW. SEE TOP OF BLOG. This is the link to the Master Plan. If it ever gets fixed you will find more information here. http://www.monroepark.com/home/roadside/Monroe_Park_Report_2_2008.pdf
*Powhatan Citizen asked about the location of The Conrad Center. It is located at 1400 Oliver Hill Way. To put it in perspective, Richmond City Juvenile Court is at 1600 Oliver Hill Way and Richmond Jail is just across the street. The neighboring communities are Mosby, Whitcomb, and Southern Barton Heights, which as stated below is typically "low-income housing with single parents or other relatives that may not have the resources to provide three well balanced meals each day", although those certainly are not the only low-income homes in Richmond. In addition to that, this location is practically inaccessible to anyone traveling on foot. I also don't like the wording of the last statement "groups who served weekend meals in Monroe Park, are invited to move to The Conrad Center" as this implies a past-tense tone. Below are the posted benefits of The Conrad Center. The Conrad Center