The Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authority is prepared to help relocate people if the county moves forward with plans to block off its property next to Binns Park to prevent people from gathering, officials said Friday.
County officials are talking about moving forward with preventative measures to deter vagrancy at the park in the 100 block of North Queen Street. The area has become known for the homeless population that sets up sleeping bags and tents around and under the county building overhang throughout the day.
Commissioner Josh Parsons said during a public meeting last week the county is considering putting up a fence around its property to improve safety for people using the county building and to ensure the building is maintained.
“I’m sad to have to talk about putting up a fence there, but out of fairness to employees and visitors, I’m not quite sure what else to do,” Parsons said.
The city did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Any structure around the county’s property would need to go through an approval process first, said county communications Director Michael Fitzpatrick. The county’s facilities management team needs to bring a recommendation to the board of commissioners for officials to consider it. The county also would need to secure funding for a fence before it can be approved, he said.
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Parsons said the building’s facility maintenance staff cleans up “absolute filth” outside the building daily and county employees have been yelled at by people congregating. Commissioner John Trescot later told a reporter the area has become “unsanitary and unsafe” with people sleeping, urinating and vomiting under the building.
The Housing Authority engages with people in the park regularly, but Parsons said there needs to be more enforcement in the area if anything is going to get better. He said the county has made “repeated pleas” to the city to improve enforcement.
Justin Eby, executive director of the Housing Authority said the authority has been a part of conversations with the county for months about increasing security around the government building. In response, Eby said the authority is preparing to relocate people who need housing if necessary.
“We continue to work with our outreach team, work with shelter capacity and work on other locations where folks can have a safe shelter,” Eby said. “If they (install) a fence or whatever the county decides to do, we will be working to ensure those folks are engaged.”
A property recently acquired by the authority at 132-134 S. Prince St., which officials expect to turn into a hub of resources for the homeless population, is one example of the steps the authority is taking to address the problem.
Eby said shelter space will be included and showers; a day center and access to computers are also being considered. The hub is still in the pre-development phase, Eby said, but a tentative opening date is slated for early 2024.
As of Friday, a majority of people congregating around Binns Park had moved away from the county building to sit under the overhang across the park. Fitzpatrick said the county did not have any people removed from its property and did not implement any preventative measures to keep people away.
Deb Jones, the authority’s human services director, said ongoing efforts to help people experiencing homelessness, which began before recent conversations about Binns Park, will continue. Along with shelter options, Jones said the authority has a street outreach team that connects with people to learn about their needs. She also encouraged the community to educate themselves on the homeless population.
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