NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — A beautiful, state-of-the art park for preschoolers in one of the poorest parts of Nashville has been dramatically altered because homeless people and drug users were taking over the park.
Azafrán Park on Nolensville Pike is a case study in how the city of Nashville is struggling with a growing homeless problem.
The park is a public private partnership. $1.5 million in fundraising, another half million from Metro Parks and you had the prettiest little pre-school park in low-income South Nashville.
Then the homeless discovered it and trouble followed.
“Some people were living under the pavilion and they were using the water splash for their own bathroom needs and then we all together took action to see how we could bring the park back to safety. Many people of course felt unsafe,” said Marta Silva, Interim Executive Director of Conexion Americas.
Conexion Americas and Casa Azafran called the police and called parks. Something had to be done.
“We’ve had homeless people actually using some of the water features that are available here to take baths naked, so it's not a great environment for children, and so the police department has made a few arrests here mostly drug arrests so there has been a drug issue as well,” said Rick Taylor of Metro Parks.
One time, a man high on something started threatening a teacher in the playground. Casa Azafran also reported numerous break-ins.
There were needles all over the playground. The benches were beds. The electricity: a place for the homeless to charge their phones.
Finally, after many meetings a plan was hatched: Remove the park benches, turn off the electricity, turn off the water.
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“We are in the parks business, I always say we are in the fun business and we always want to provide recreational opportunities for everyone in our city and there are certain places in our park system that homeless encampments are interfering with the intended purpose of that specific park,” said Taylor.
Stripped of some of its best amenities, the park is now back to being a preschool park. But it came at a cost. Metro Parks even had to remove the $6,000 wheelchair accessible drinking fountain, because for some reason the homeless destroyed it.
Marta Silva wants to make sure everyone understands she is not criminalizing homelessness. She wants to help the homeless, but this is more than homelessness. It's a drug addiction and danger. Her main role is to keep this park safe for very small children.
“This is a drug-use issue, really. We have a community of homeless that don’t represent any harm for anybody but there are others, because of the drug use they become more violent and more representing a threat to us,” said Silva.
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Silva hopes that this is just temporary and come spring, everything can be fixed and returned to its intended joy. But how will that happen?
“They're working hard on trying to find some housing but there is also a mental health and drug addiction component to this that also needs to be addressed because not addressing that you are not fixing the problem,” said Taylor.
FOX 17 News wants to know what the mayor’s office thinks about this situation. To build a great park and when it's overrun, don’t remove the problem, remove the amenities. Is there not a better answer?
Mayor Cooper’s office sent the following:
“The city is bringing on two additional workers to help unhoused neighbors get into stable, permanent housing. We have recommended additional funding for another flex team to the oversight review committee...the effort continues.”
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