After one week, how are the houseless reacting to the Whitman Park closure?

Whitman Park sign on Pitkin Avenue
Whitman Park sign on Pitkin Avenue(KKCO)
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 7:02 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) - A major headline over the last week: Whitman Park closing. We’ve talked to the Parks and Recreation Department for the city of Grand Junction, City Council at-large member Scott Beilfuss, and local houseless shelters. So, we wanted to find out how those affected personally are dealing with the park closure.

“The whole homeless community has been dispersed to other places,” said Shawnee, a self-proclaimed community leader for the houseless population in Grand Junction. Since Whitman Park closed last week, she wants to see more be done by everyone in the community to help her and those most affected. “We are homeless, but the only way to improve that is to literally figure out a situation with the city, the homeless, and the community all together,” Shawnee said.

Currently, metal bike racks are surrounding Whitman Park and keeping out everyone without a reservation. A place where the houseless could once rest every day is no more. “Apparently, it’s supposed to be illegal to camp in the city, what do they plan on people doing,” Shawnee said. “I camp the farthest out you can, and actually walk back and forth to town for food and water.”

Like Shawnee, many people in her community are looking for work. She believes she has an answer. “Closing the park and kicking everybody out is not the answer,” she said. “Putting them to work, and maybe giving them a job is a better plan, like helping clean the park.”

As a leader Shawnee knows to keep her community in line. “As the homeless we need to clean up after ourselves, pick up trash, and clean up some of our acts.”

Now, some potential good news. According to City Council member Scott Beilfuss, a 40-unit apartment complex is going up across the street from Whitman Park. He says it’s for the most vulnerable like seniors, women, and children. Beilfuss said construction should start next month.

A representative for the city of Grand Junction said, “The City has an active Housing Division that works closely with our local service providers and non-profit organizations who offer services to people who are unhoused.” Adding, “The City has had a camping ban in place since 2019 which does not allow camping overnight in any City Park, including downtown.”