A local church representative has expressed a willingness to move the church's 11-year program feeding the homeless in Phoenix Park to another downtown location.
Geoff Reed, the city's commissioner of general services, said he met with Gary Blake, an elder with Hill 'n Dale Christian Church, Tuesday morning. "They understand the problems that exist and are amenable to change," Reed said. "They seem anxious for a solution."
Hill 'n Dale has had a downtown ministry of serving meals in the park since 2002.
At the request of council, Reed reported on the progress of the Phoenix Park renovation, which includes removing dying trees, installing new pavers, taking out dated furniture and adding benches designed with arm rests to keep people from stretching out and sleeping.
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Work in Phoenix Park is on time, on budget and will be completed for the city's Fourth of July celebration, Reed said.
He was also asked what steps the city was prepared to take to address the vagrants who hang out there hollering at people, sleeping on the grass, urinating in the bushes and throwing cigarette butts and food wrappers and cups on the ground.
Several council members said serving meals in the park encouraged these individuals' sense of ownership of the park. It's a park for everybody, not for one specific population, said council member Kevin Stinnett.
The park is situated at the intersection of East Main and Limestone streets, and adjoins the Central Library and the Park Plaza Apartments.
Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield said many taxpayers live and work in the library and at Park Plaza. "We just passed an ordinance regulating when and where food trucks can set up, I don't see why we can't do the same with faith-based groups who serve there," she said.
Faith-based groups are exempt from many rules governing other organizations, Reed said, especially when they are providing free food.
Scutchfield asked if Reed had talked with Blake about other areas where the church could serve. Reed said he planned to check out other possible locations, then have that conversation with Blake.
Blake was also concerned about safety issues in Phoenix Park, Reed said.