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Terre Haute Homeless Coalition Fights Park Policy

Families By Choice founder Muriel Ryan says visitors in the area have the wrong idea about homeless campers at Hawthorn Park.

With an archery range, a boat launch and a beach, Terre Haute’s Hawthorn Park sounds like a fine spot for a weekend trip. But for some, the park’s campgrounds serve as an inexpensive haven while they seek long-term shelter.

In April, Vigo County Parks Department officials instated a policy in reaction to complaints that homeless people had overrun park grounds. According to the new rule, campers may stay no longer than two weeks at a time.

Muriel Ryan is the founder of Families By Choice- a group that seeks to help homeless people. On Tuesday, she and the rest of Vigo County’s homeless coalition spoke with the Wabash Valley Planning Council on Homeless for Region 7 to protest the policy.

“I don’t think that there was ever an intent for these people to live there forever. But at the same time I’d call it a safety net- another option for persons that did have some resources to pay for park living,” Ryan says.

Ryan says it’s a bad idea, partially because some people aren’t looking for a handout. Instead, they’re paying camping fees to stay at the park.

The homeless coalition and Parks Department officials are scheduled to meet next month.

“I think that to get such an immediate agreement that they’re willing to sit down and talk with us, that that’s a good sign,” says Ryan.

Right now the park has more than 60 vacant camping lots. Vigo County Parks Department officials declined to comment for this story.

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