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Pearson Park Needs Help, Neighbors Say

August 07, 1998|DEBRA CANO

Residents are fed up with the crime problems at Pearson Park and want to make it a place where families and children aren't afraid to visit and play.

Together with police, residents will take a walk through the park Saturday on a campaign to reclaim it. Their aim is to educate themselves about the park's problems and talk to the homeless people who live there.

"We want them to know that if they're doing illegal acts, we will call police," said Jani Lopez-Mead, who lives next to the park.

The city's oldest park has become a hangout for people without homes or jobs, according to area residents.

It also has a reputation for gang activity and as a place where drugs are bought and sold.

"It's not like the neighborhood is trying to run people out, but we're dealing with a hard-core element of society, and it amazes me the city can't do anything about it," said Marilyn Lemken, who lives near the park.

The city's hands are tied to some extent because the park is a public place.

But one way to address some of the neighbors' concerns is by tackling the crime and drug problems. Police have become a daily presence in the park with patrols and undercover busts.

Many of the people who loiter there have been in and out of jail, said Anaheim Police Officer Happy Medina, who patrols the park.

The park has become a magnet for homeless people in part because many charity groups hand out free meals there, Medina said.

"I'm amazed at how many groups come down to feed them," he added. "They have good intentions, but they're fueling the fire. It's not fair to the people who live in the area and to the people who use the park."

But one church groups sees it differently. On Thursdays, three women from a Korean church in Hawaiian Gardens lead the homeless men and woman in song, prayer and Scripture readings. Then they have a barbecue feast of Korean food.

"So many people are already here--and not because of us," church member Jung Toh said. "We just want to serve God's word."

Rescue Mission workers drop by the park a couple of times a month to help the homeless. Recently they picked up a heroin addict and an alcoholic and got them into treatment programs.

Jim Palmer, president of Orange County Rescue Mission, said his group's goal is "never to give a handout, but a hand up, to bring them into programs and resources to become self-sufficient to get them out of the parks and off the streets."

But the lack of programs and shelters in Anaheim and elsewhere in the county contribute to parks becoming havens for the homeless, he said.

"We need to provide more opportunities to shelter the homeless and have true recovery programs," Palmer said.

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