ESCONDIDO: Motor home ban criticized as anti-homeless

Linda and John Carneiro and one of their four children with their mobile home parked on Broadway in Escondido at Grape Day Park Friday. They live in the mobile home with their four children
Escondido City Council members voted this week to prohibit motor homes from parking on streets near Grape Day Park, prompting complaints from homeless people that the city is escalating its efforts to push them out of the park.
A handful of older motor homes owned by homeless people regularly park along Broadway, Woodward Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue next to the city's most prominent urban park. During the day, the homeless use the motor homes as a respite from the sun or as a safe place for a nap.
A city staff report explaining the new restrictions doesn't mention homeless people, and city officials have consistently said they have no problem with homeless people using Grape Day Park as long they don't take illegal drugs or break other laws.
The staff report says the motives for banning motor homes are eliminating a visual nuisance and making the area around the park safer for pedestrians, who sometimes struggle to see around the large vehicles when crossing streets.
There are often many children in the area, which includes the San Diego Children's Museum and a Boys & Girls Club chapter.
But homeless people interviewed Friday in the park called the motor home ban an obvious escalation of the city's crackdown on homelessness in the park.
City officials closed the park's public bathrooms for three months last fall as part of what the police department described as a wider effort to curb illegal activity. The crackdown also included more aggressive enforcement of rules against sleeping on blankets in the park and scavenging for recyclables in trash cans.
The bathroom closure ended Dec. 12, but homeless people said other elements of the crackdown have continued.
"You can't have a blanket, a backpack or lay down if you're homeless, but someone else can lay down and they won't do anything," said Lisa Haney, referring to the police.
Sherry Collier said the city wants the homeless out of Grape Day Park because it's a conspicuous location that includes City Hall and the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
"This is a place that reflects on the city," she said.
Lt. Chris Wynn, the police department's lead spokesman, said he didn't know enough about the crackdown to comment. He referred questions to Lt. Greg Ellis, who didn't return a call Friday.
Charlie Woolridge, executive director of the nonprofit Empowering the Homeless, said it seemed likely to him that the motor home ban was part of a wider effort.
"From our perspective, the city just wants the homeless to go away," he said. "They have a distorted image of the homeless as people who use drugs and abuse alcohol, but that's only a small minority."
John Carneiro, owner of a 1971 Winnebago he frequently parks on Broadway along the edge of the park, called the motor home ban an overreaction this week.
"I only stick out on one side and I'm not too big for the parking spot," said Carneiro, who said he, his wife and their four kids have been homeless since last April. "I park in lots of different spots around the city because I don't want to be an eyesore."
Carneiro said he's been surprised at how unwelcome his family feels in the park.
"I can't understand why they would have a park here if they don't want people to use it," he said.
City officials said the motor home ban would go into effect as soon as they erected signs listing the new restrictions. The signs are expected to cost $3,000.

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