If the opening of overnight parking at Traxler Park is any indication, fears of homeless people trashing the area and preying on children have been greatly overblown.
The rallying cry of some residents who sought to prevent overnight parking happening at Palmer Park—“Save Palmer Park,” their signs read—seems downright cruel in the context of stories we heard during the first weekend at Traxler Park.
Two of the visitors were a mother and her girl. Tears came to the mother’s eyes as she explained her situation to Gazette reporter Frank Schultz.
“Raising kids, working and trying to find a place is hard for one person,” she said.
Are this mother and daughter the kind of people some neighbors of Palmer Park so desperately wanted to keep out? The Save Palmer Park crowd became so filled with fear, it forgot to consider the humanity of the homeless. The group fixated on how overnight parking could hurt the park instead of how overnight parking could help people in need.
To be sure, the protest wasn’t one of Janesville’s finest moments.
Thankfully, the neighbors of Traxler Park didn’t protest like those near Palmer Park. Thankfully, they were receptive to at least trying overnight parking. The proposal adopted by the city council last month allows Janesville police to halt overnight parking if problems arise.
So far, so good, though it likely will take several weeks to determine the demand for this service and whether security concerns are manageable. Our hope is overnight parking will reduce people’s stress by eliminating their nightly search for a place to park. They now have a legal alternative instead of having to take their chances parking at a private lot.
Overnight parking at Traxler Park will help people such as Mary and Dave, who stayed there last weekend because shelters were full, they said. The couple expressed appreciation, in particular for the police presence.
“It means a lot. It really does,” said Mary, who declined to give her last name.
Many people protesting overnight parking claimed it would attract the criminal element. But the opposite might prove to be true because police are monitoring the area through a security camera and plan to regularly patrol the site.
Along with providing a safe place to sleep, the site will give social workers the opportunity to help people find more permanent shelter. Perhaps some might qualify for charitable programs, such as rental assistance.
Overnight parking isn’t the solution to homelessness, but its advocates never claimed it was. It is a small gesture but not an insignificant one. Those who shepherded this proposal through city council should take a bow. They could have abandoned the proposal altogether after people’s initial objections, but they persisted. They made a positive difference for the homeless—and the whole community.