The growing homeless population in Center City Park got a lot of attention this week.

Monday, Aug. 8, Downtown Greensboro Inc. President and District 3 City Councilmember Zack Matheny, by email, invited city and county officials as well as representatives of downtown businesses to walk through Center City Park with him to discuss solutions to the problems created by the growing homeless population in the park.

In the email, after noting some of the problems in Center City Park, Matheny stated, “I invite you on this email, and all members of the COC [Continuum of Care] to walk through the park with me, let’s try and help folks get the help they need and I can learn why the organizations are unable to help them.”

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, a group that included city and county officials as well as representation from downtown business owners did just that – they walked through the park and discussed possible solutions to the growing problem that Center City Park has become.

City Manager Tai Jaiyeoba didn’t like it and responded on Friday, Aug. 12 to Matheny’s email stating in part, “One, there is already an existing meeting between the city and county to discuss strategies for addressing this concern.  I am very concerned that multiple meetings involving different stakeholders will result in multiple discussions that we are not looped into and result in different strategies.

“Two this is a city/countywide issue that we should discuss with a goal of resolving it in a wholistic manner – resolving it in our downtown would only result in creating the same issue in other parts of the city.”

Matheny responded that he had asked about city/county meetings on the issue and had never been told when the meetings were being held.  He added that the Wednesday meeting in the park that included the business community as well as city and county officials had been successful.

Vice President of the Richardson Corporation Mark Shumaker, who participated in the Wednesday meeting, also responded stating, “From a business owners perspective, I’d like to add emphasis to the fact that something needs to happen (rather than simply talking).  We recently had an employee of a tenant (Arch MI) that a homeless person peed on from head to toe (she was sitting on a bench reading a book). Nothing was done and the police turned their back.  We’re working hard to promote downtown and build economic vitality. The growing feedback we hear from tenants and prospects involve safety concerns.”

Vaughan Ramsey from the Tuggle Duggins law firm, who also participated in the walk, stated, “I have compassion for the homeless but the current situation in the parks is not tenable and some immediate visible action needs to be taken.  If nothing is done, downtown is going to slowly wither as people slowly vote with their feet.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who did not participate in the walk, responded with a list of actions that were underway including: putting up 10 signs that unattended items will be removed from the park, the city attorney reviewing ordinances, park renovations that will include enhanced sprinklers, artistic fencing, additional bench arms to prohibit laying down and art pieces to occupy spaces between planters.

She said that the city was also negotiating for land outside the downtown as a site for nonprofit outreach such as providing meals.