Daytime tent ban in Bloomington parks takes effect


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Aug 27, 2023

Daytime tent ban in Bloomington parks takes effect

A new rule prohibits tents or other enclosed structures in Bloomington parks during the daytime. Bloomington’s Board of Parks Commissioners passed the rule at a meeting last week, and police began

A new rule prohibits tents or other enclosed structures in Bloomington parks during the daytime. Bloomington’s Board of Parks Commissioners passed the rule at a meeting last week, and police began enforcing it Wednesday.

A Bloomington Police officer walked through Seminary Park before noon Wednesday and informed people that tents would no longer be allowed.

At that point, one tent was up. Some people packed up tents that weren't set up yet after the officer spoke to them.

The new rule passed last week at a parks meeting. It said, “no person shall erect, occupy, or otherwise utilize a tent or other makeshift enclosed structure on any property under the Bloomington Parks Department.”

The rule sparked concern from advocates and people experiencing homelessness.

Galin Pheylan, who is homeless, attended the meeting. He doesn’t use a tent at Seminary Square or any other public park. He’s pretty sure the area he stays on is public, and he’s frustrated with the city’s decision.

“They just want the homeless gone, out of sight, out of sight out of mind," he said. "Okay, where are they going to go? It's gonna be the same problem wherever they go.”

He said the rule didn’t leave room for compromise or address any of the issues raised.

“They wanted to push the issues aside, along with the homeless, without dealing with the issues: methamphetamine, homelessness, trash. Deal with the issues, not just pushing them somewhere else."

The new rule references concern of health and safety related to “abandoned property, illegal activity, and accumulation of garbage” — which Bloomington’s operations and development director Tim Street said is supported by 1,900 incident reports from the park’s contracted security.

From August 2022 to July 2023, Switchyard Parks and Seminary Square had the most incident reports — more than 500 and 400, respectively.

The most common incident categories were spill mess and substance abuse — each with more than 300 reports. Street said Switchyard does have some security patrols exclusive to those areas.

“So it makes sense that Switchyard would also sort of see some more incidents than some of the other parks,” he said.

The four-member board passed the rule unanimously.

Park Commissioner Kathleen Mills said there’s a need for more social services, but that’s not the parks department’s primary responsibility.

“We are here to make sure that the parks properties are safe and accessible for everyone," Mills said. "Frankly, as the people who oversee the decisions the parks department makes, we can't really continue this cycle of the needle removal and the trash removal and the storing of belongings.”

It’s not the first time the city’s restricted parks and public spaces for people experiencing homelessness.

Tents were already not allowed at night, a rule the city started enforcing in December 2020 and January 2021, removing tents and possessions of people experiencing homelessness from Seminary Square. It also started enforcing a rule against camping in public right of ways.

Those actions opposed Pandemic Centers For Disease Control guidance that people experiencing unsheltered homelessness should be allowed to remain in place if they had no place to go. Since the Federal COVID-19 public health emergency ended in May, that no longer applies.

Beacon Inc. is a day shelter and service provider a quarter mile down the street from Seminary Square. Its director, Rev. Forrest Gilmore, said there’s still a lack of supportive housing, mental healthcare and substance abuse recovery resources in the community.

“So until we deal with the important issues, we're going to have to keep dealing with these smaller issues and doing it in a way that many times reduces our humanity.”

Gilmore added exposure to heat and cold are his immediate concerns.

Robert Antwon Brown is staying at the Wheeler Shelter for Men. He was spending the day at Seminary Square Aug. 17, the day after the rule passed.

He said it will be hard on him and other people who spend time in the park, because it’s one of the only places he’s able to go some days.

"It's definitely going to impact my day, because when I'm not doing anything that's positive and productive, like looking for a job or going to get clean clothing, or whatever the case may be, Seminary Park is a big part of that," he said. "So you tell me I'm limited. I'm already limited. Now, you limited me more.”

He wants qualifications to be lowered for housing to make it more accessible. He added every person experiencing homelessness has a different situation and will be affected differently.

If an enclosed structure isn’t removed from a park upon request, it can be confiscated by the parks department and held for 30 days before disposal.