PORT ANGELES — Veterans Memorial Park is being overrun by graffiti, trash and human waste, the Port Angeles City Council was told last week.
The city should take action to protect the park and its iconic bell that is used in veterans’ ceremonies, public speakers said Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, it does not belong to our community any longer,” said Patty Pastore, a volunteer who often cleans trash from Veterans Memorial Park and other city property.
“It belongs to the street people, the transients, the addicts and the alcoholics. It has become their front room, their kitchen, their bedroom and their bathroom.”
Pastore said later that she was not referring to homeless, differentiating homeless from transients.
Others at the meeting said that a few bad apples are causing most of the damage at the park.
“Not all of us are criminals,” said Lori Sweet, who has been homeless for nearly two years.
“Not all of us are addicts. I’m personally studying to pass the bar.
“To do damage to the bell is horrible,” Sweet added.
Council members agreed to discuss homeless issues at city parks in a future meeting, including the accessibility of public restrooms and drop boxes for used syringes. The council is not meeting this week.
“We need to start coming up with more creative ways to keep those parks safe for folks and to try and keep them cleaned up,” Council member Michael Merideth said.
“I know that we don’t have a lot of city resources for city workers to be out there cleaning up all this stuff, but they are our parks, and we’ve got to keep them clean.”
Council member Cherie Kidd agreed, saying Veterans Memorial Park has become “dangerous” after dark.
Kidd said she had to hit her brakes to avoid a person who was standing in the middle of Lincoln Street on a recent rainy night to get attention after an altercation at the park.
“We just need to sit down with the police department,” Kidd said.
“We need to sit down with (parks Director) Corey (Delikat). We need to talk about what we can do to establish some standards that the community can support.”
Shuttle to shelter
Serenity House of Clallam County has been shuttling homeless clients from Veterans Memorial Park at 217 S. Lincoln St. to its recently re-opened night-by-night shelter at 2321 W. 18th St., said John DeBoer, who serves on the Clallam County Homelessness Task Force.
“They’re still putting things together,” DeBoer told the City Council. “I hope they work out a transportation scheme that’s satisfactory to everyone.”
The shelter is about 3.5 miles from the park.
“If you ever want to put on a 20-pound pack and walk it, it’s quite a chore when you’ve got to get out there,” DeBoer said.
The Port Angeles Liberty Bell, which was commissioned by the Lions Club and honors U.S. veterans, has been tagged with markers, spray paint and fingernail polish, Pastore said.
The support beams have been whittled away with hatchets and knives, she said.
“Graffiti is everywhere,” Pastore said.
“We have cleaned up blood, urine, vomit and feces on the upper concrete deck. One of the garden beds behind the stone monuments is used as a bathroom.”
Pastore, an original member of Helping Hands, said the bell was manufactured at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the same foundry that made the original Liberty Bell.
One solution to the vandalism would be to enclose Veterans Memorial Park with an fence that could be opened for ceremonies, Pastore said.
“I am here to voice the community’s concerns and heartbreak at the desecration and destruction that we see happening there,” Pastore said.
“We as a community are asking our city officials for help in saving this most important piece of Port Angeles’s history. In turn, we will do all we can to assist you in this endeavor.”
The Clallam County Veterans Association hosts a bell-ringing ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park on the last Friday of every month to honor local veterans who have died.
Law enforcement officers gather at the park every year to honor Clallam County Sheriff’s Deputy Wally Davis, who was fatally shot in 2000, and U.S. Forest Service Officer Kristine Fairbanks, who was fatally shot in 2008, and other peace officers killed in the line of duty.
“Veterans Park is a memorial and should be treated as such,” Pastore said.
Council member Mike French suggested that the city find ways to assist the volunteers who are willing to help clean the parks.
”I know that there’s a lot of people doing a lot of work on their own, and sometimes that gets really daunting,” French said.
”I think we have resources that can help.”
Sweet said she has witnessed people damaging homeless camps and tents. Her own tent was slashed last weekend, she said.
“I know it’s your town, but stop taking these guys’ pictures and stop slashing tents,” DeBoer said, “because it’s your manners that are the issue.”
Carol Turner of Port Angeles took issue with the notion that the people cleaning up Veterans Memorial Park are harassing the homeless.
“This is not a right-wing vigilante group,” Turner said.
“I just want people to understand that. We respect the environment.”
Turner, who helps Pastore clean city parks and the Valley Creek corridor, said she had found human waste on the hillside behind the bell and along the historic fire hall adjacent to Veterans Memorial Park.
“Nobody wants to make a hard life more difficult for anybody,” Turner said.
“That’s not what this is about. It’s about advocating for our beautiful forests and our beautiful town.”
Turner said Pastore speaks with homeless people about their problems and is a “one-woman cleaning machine.”
“She’s much more patient than I am, and I’m a card-carrying Democrat,” Turner said.
“I do not want to make anyone’s life harder than it already is,” Turner added.
“But somebody’s got to say ‘OK, there’s got to be limits.’”