The Vigo County Parks Department is increasing security at a campground just outside Terre Haute that’s become a makeshift summer residence for homeless people. Parks officials say they’ve seen an increase in vandalism there this summer.
Unlike state parks, Vigo County parks don’t place restrictions on how long campers can stay. Because Hawthorn Recreational Park is less than ten miles from downtown Terre Haute, about 34 homeless people have been setting up tents there for the past few months.
Vigo County Parks and Recreation Superintendent Kara Kish says the people staying at Hawthorn Park have not been following park rules. She says they’ve been drinking on the campgrounds, not keeping their animals on a leash, and vandalizing property.
“What we are interested in is curbing the acts of instances that we’ve had in the park , it’s not specific to any population, we view everybody as a paid camper, but we have seen recently at Hawthorn, we have seen an increase in incidences there,” she says.
The parks department plans to hire a security guard who will monitor the campgrounds and strictly enforce the park’s policies. If people don’t abide by those rules, they’ll be forced to leave.
Rev. Timothy J. Fagg is the CEO at Light House Mission—a shelter in Terre Haute. He says people aren’t going to the park because of shelters are overcrowded. Light House has enough beds for about 250 people, but it’s only housing about 38 people this summer.
“We have a set of rules and policies here at the mission we ask them to abide by, one of them is a curfew sometimes they have to be in by nine o’clock and sometimes they don’t like that idea. So they will choose to go out and stay in the park,” says Rev. Fagg.
The campground at Hawthorn Park closes for the winter. Fagg says when that happens, he expects more people will return to the official shelters.
But for many homeless people in Terre Haute, shelter rules and guidelines can make it hard to get a bed.
Jeff Lorick, Terre Haute Human Relations Director, says public and private shelters in Indiana don’t take in people with certain felonies or sex offenders, and shelters don’t allow unwed couples to be housed together. Lorrick says even people who meet the guidelines sometimes have trouble obeying shelter rules because they suffer from mental illnesses or are battling drug and alcohol addictions.
Lorrick says there’s a need for temporary housing – not just shelters for people transitioning from the street to permanent living arrangements.
“The Federal government and state government have cut those dollars to eliminate those, emergency or transitional shelters for the purpose of , the goal to have cut those dollars to move people in to permanent housing situation”
Lorick says he’s concerned about what will happen to the homeless people living in Hawthorn Park when the it closes in mid-October.