Points of unity:
1) Between 25%-50% of Monroe Park must remain open at all times during the renovations for the people who need it most, and for the service organizations who are able to fulfill those needs.
2) There must be no private security tasked with maintaining ratios of the "apparently homeless", nor restriction of service providers upon reopening of the park.
Monroe is the oldest park in Richmond, and the only green, public space in the center of the city. For 20 years churches, food pantries and social justice groups have delivered hot meals, clothing and toiletries to Richmond's most vulnerable citizens in the park.
The park's district councilperson, Charles Samuels, has called these dedicated feeding programs "random", and claims outright that they actually "facilitate homelessness", suggesting that the people who need these services more than anyone in the city would be better off without them. He says that it's time for these assistance programs to be moved to a location miles away - beside the city jail. Many of the people who need these programs are elderly, disabled, wheelchair-bound or injured workers who cannot safely navigate the enormous hill of Broad Street at I-95.
Not coincidentally, Samuels is simultaneously promising to put a 9-foot fence around Monroe Park for between 9 and 18 months for new renovations. The drawn-up plans for the renovations claim that the ratio of "apparently homeless" to non-homeless must be 1 to 75-100 in order to draw more women. (Women don't like homeless people, it explains.) The plans also include funding for private security guards.
The Monroe Park advisory council has been trying to eliminate these programs for years. It's own meeting notes from April of 2007 show this:
"Many of the members asked an open question concerning the groups that serve meals. That question was 'Can we bar them?' "
Later in the same meeting, the park's newly hired keeper is charged with "discouraging homeless feedings".
While we hesitate to use charged rhetoric, this is textbook gentrification. The poor and homeless are being openly and forcibly removed - from a public space - to allow private interests to move in and police the area.
Our coalition of churches and other organizations DO NOT oppose renovations to Monroe Park. We like pretty parks! But we cannot sit idly by while those most in need have their only open public space closed. We have created this petition to demand that the renovation be done in stages, rather than all at once, leaving between 25% and 50% of the park open for the people who need it most, and the organizations who are able to provide that need. We also firmly oppose any private security force in this public space, especially one specifically charged with keeping out the "apparently homeless".
Check out the video at the top of this page, and if you believe we are right, sign the petition to help Richmond's poor and their advocates!