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City Park brush cleared

called shelter for homeless

August 31, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - Residents' complaints about loud noise and drinking have spurred railroad and city workers to begin tackling undergrowth at City Park, officials said.

The City of Hagerstown and employees of the Norfolk Southern Corp. railroad line have cleared shrubs and weeds from a northern part of the park near Hager House, Parks and Recreation Superintendent Junior Mason said Wednesday.

According to police, homeless people often sought shelter in the area.

"We have found a lot of trash and bottles and blankets, whether old or new, I don't know," Mason said.

According to Police Lt. Richard Reynolds, the work began about three weeks ago in response to residents' concerns about disturbances at the park.

"Once we started the clearing process, the complaints stopped," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said he was not aware of arrests at the park, but he said in one sweep of CSX Corp. property near Wesel Boulevard, officers arrested one person, issued a citation and removed six shopping carts of belongings.

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Officials for CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads could not be reached Wednesday.

According to Police Chief Arthur Smith, the railroads have not always been cooperative in lending assistance clearing their properties.

"It's hard to get their attention. They have very few police, and they have a very long railroad right of way," Smith said.

Officers have found as many as a dozen homeless people living in encampments along the park, Smith said. At times, homeless people have set up as many as three or four encampments, he said.

Fred Ebberts, a South Potomac Street resident who was walking his dog through the park Wednesday, said he has seen "winos, or whatever you want to call them, people sleeping along here," in some of the areas where the undergrowth recently was removed.

Though he said the homeless have not bothered him, Ebberts said he does not like to be out after dark.

"They set there, and they drink. They just pretty much keep to themselves, but you never know," Ebberts said.

According to Reynolds, the brush-clearing efforts are unrelated to an incident more than two weeks ago in which two homeless men were attacked and robbed at City Park. Those men were assaulted in another section of the park, he said.

Two men were charged in the attacks on the homeless men.

Many of the park's homeless come from out of town - some on passing trains - to set up camp in the weeks before the cold-weather shelter opens, Smith said. Assaults among the homeless and substance-abuse incidents are not uncommon, he said.

"We've been fortunate that no one's died of any of those," Smith said.

According to Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who hopes to address some of the issues by setting up a task force on homelessness, many of the people who set up camp in the park are transients, he said.

"We have seen homeless people that are living back in that area, and there can be trouble," Bruchey said. He expressed concern that the city and county provide services to its homeless population, while dealing with those who are passing through the area.

"We are in an area that has great services to offer people, and they're going to take advantage of it, if they can," Bruchey said.

Employees have not had problems with the homeless people they have encountered while clearing the park, Mason said.

"We have seen them come and go. Since we've been out there, it's been more going than coming," Mason said.

The project could take some time, he said.

A groundhog puttered among weeds and cut logs in a large clearing near the train tracks Wednesday night. Tire marks and fresh-cut trees bore witness to the recent work. Broken glass, plastic bottles and a pair of shorts littered the ground.

The homeless are vulnerable to being victims themselves, Ebberts said.

"If you're down and out ... I've talked to a lot of guys, they don't want to go to the rescue mission because they don't go through that religious thing, but the thing is, it's not a safe place, if you're laying out," Ebberts said.

As a train passed, Ebberts started to leave.

"It's a wonder nobody's ever got run over by a train over here," he said.

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