Fullerton Park Becomes Latest Flashpoint in Homeless Issue

Each spring, when the temporary winter homeless shelter closes at the Fullerton armory, the residents near Pacific Park in the southwest part of the city brace for an influx of homeless people.

They take over the park's gazebo, benches and tables, and drug paraphernalia can be found in bathrooms and around trash cans, said Egleth Padilla-Nuncci, a local resident. The homeless people also urinate on the walls of the restroom after hours, she said.

On a recent weekday morning, a city worker who was cleaning up the park backed up Padilla-Nuncci. He said he and other workers often find needles in the bathrooms and that the park drifters have even asked him to hook up some street drugs. The park’s homeless population varies day-by-day, he said, but it is among the three most transient-occupied parks in Fullerton.

He also added that he wouldn’t bring his wife and daughter to the park.

Approximately 100 yards away from the park, near the railroad tracks behind the old Hunt Library, rested a homeless man who said that many of his compatriots in the area drift from one spot to another when the armory closes.

Earlier this month, county Supervisor Shawn Nelson said that because of the anticipated opening of a year-round shelter on Kraemer Place in Anaheim, the Fullerton armory should not operate as a shelter later this year.

The homeless man, who goes by Shy Boy, said he’s waiting for the Kraemer site to open its doors to the homeless because many of the current services in the county give priority to families.

Padilla-Nuncci said while she sympathizes with the plight of homeless people and understands not all have drug and mental issues, she still doesn’t feel safe bringing her kids to the park -- instead, they use the school playground when it’s open.

In the low-income neighborhood surrounding the school in the southwest part of the city, Padilla-Nuncci said the community has seen an increase in homeless population.

“We are a forgotten part of Fullerton."

Cpl. Mike McCaskill of the Fullerton Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Unit contradicted Padilla-Nuncci's claims. He said that there were only three people at the park a few days after her visit and that the unit hasn’t seen an increase of homeless in the area.

McCaskill urged residents to contact the liaison unit if they experience problems with the homeless.

Padilla-Nuncci said Pacific Drive community members and school officials have been trying to open a dialogue on the park issue with the city.

A couple weeks ago, Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald was at Pacific Drive Elementary and toured the adjacent park.

“I want to make sure that park is a great place for families to use,” Fitzgerald said in a phone interview. It’s not meeting that goal right now, she added.

Fitzgerald said that she and Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory have met with school officials about the residents’ safety concerns at the park, and anticipates that some kind of plan will go before the City Council's parks and recreation committee in this month.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at Scustodio21@csu.fullerton.edu.