Petition to CLOSE Shepherd Park (corner of MLK Ave SE & Malcolm X Ave SE) in Ward 8, DC.
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For over 40 years, the residents, businesses, organizations and stakeholders of the Congress Heights neighborhood in Ward 8 in Washington, DC have been held hostage in their own neighborhood and excluded from enjoying Shepherd Park, a National Park Service park located at the corner of MLK Ave SE & Malcolm X Ave SE in Washington, DC.
This "park" has been a blight on the community for over 40 years, 365 days a year, because it has been allowed to become the unofficial open-air clubhouse for loitering, litter, vandalism, public drinking, public urination, drug dealing, gun violence, drug using, prostitution, robbery, and a host of other crimes against the community and the laws of the District of Columbia and the federal government. The "park" is located next to a liquor store and adjacent to known drug dealing hotspots. People have lost their lives in and around Shepherd Park because of what happens there. Because of the park's location at the gateway of the Congress Heights commercial district, our neighborhood is being held hostage, literally and economically. The surrounding streets are littered with trash, the only nearby businesses (legal and otherwise) that profit are profiting from the park inhabitant's vices. The park is so unsafe that adults avoid it at all costs and children are advised not to enter the park out of a real concern for their safety. Families cannot go to the park because it has been allowed to be overrun exclusively by adults who regularly participate in illegal and unsafe behavior. Children who may only live a street or two or a block away from the park are forced to play in the street -- in traffic -- because it is safer than going to Shepherd Park. Please be clear, we are not overstating the severity and seriousness of this problem! Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has called Shepherd Park, "the worst National Park Service owned park in all of DC."
Shepherd Park is NOT a community park -- at least not for the children, teens, adults, seniors and families that live in Congress Heights. Residents of this community have never been able to utilize that park in any significant way for over four decades. Shepherd Park has been used almost exclusively by the criminal element, loiterers, drug dealers and a SMALL number of DC's homeless. The vast majority of the park's inhabitants are not homeless. It is a hangout spot, a training ground for lawless and anti-social behavior.
Shepherd Park stands as a constant reminder that this community doesn't matter and that it's residents are forced to live in and near conditions that are unsafe, unfriendly and anti-community. As residents, homeowners and businesses we being held hostage and nothing is being done to stop it! Everyone has turned a blind eye to this situation, a situation that would never be allowed anywhere else in Washington, DC. The fact that our community is predominantly African-American and made up of a significant low-income population has made getting a resolution to this issue more difficult as there appears to be an assumption that we as community members just don't care. Wrong! Despite petitioning every agency possible, we can't get anyone with power and influence to care enough to take immediate and significant action. Shepherd Park is NOT an accurate reflection of our Congress Heights community, it does not reflect our values, our dreams and our efforts for a thriving community. Our neighborhood is being held back and held hostage because of Shepherd Park -- AND WE ARE SICK AND TIRED OF IT!
This is not a case of NIMBYs being annoyed at a few homeless men sleeping in a public park. It is much more serious than that, it is dangerous. 99% of the regular inhabitants that hang out in Shepherd Park are contributing to negative if not illegal behavior and it has had a crushing effect on our small business district, the value of our homes, the quality of our lives and has robbed us of having a vibrant, safe and revitalized community. The overwhelming majority of the people who hang out in the park day and night are not homeless, they hang out in Shepherd Park because it's convenient and it's gone on for so long that they have assumed ownership of it as an outdoor bar and clubhouse. Positioning police officers in the park as had little effect, they continue to be disruptive and destructive. We, the law-abiding, family-oriented and community residents, businesses, and community organizations of Congress Heights and Ward 8 have had enough! We are tired of feeling frustrated and unsafe. We are tired of being demoralized every time we pass this park on our way to our homes. We are tired of having a reputation as the "ghetto" because this park is at the very doorstep of our community. We are tired of our children (at least two generations of children) having never had the experience of playing safely never being able to utilize safely a park in their own community.
As community members we have exhausted EVERY SINGLE ALTERNATIVE IMAGINABLE in an attempt to at least mitigate and diminish some of this lawlessness and blight! At this point, we aren't even trying to make it good; we just want to make it stop! We would gladly prefer a vacant and empty lot instead of what we are now forced to deal with now. For over 14,000 days we have been forced to in the epicenter of crime and foolishness. We have coordinated community clean ups, we have petitioned for NPS to restore the green spaces (which they did) and have a new playground installed (which they did). Every single new thing that has gone into Shepherd Park is destroyed in days if not hours. Hundreds of thousands of federal tax dollars have been spent on capital and landscaping improvements on that space. We have met with representatives of the National Park Service, DC government, local nonprofits (including Catholic Charities that operates a men's homeless shelter nearby), DC Police, National Park Service Police, etc. and NOTHING WORKS. There are way too many people in that park, there is way too much crime, and this has gone on for way to long to try to effect any kind of positive change while the park is allowed to remain open and accessible.
To that end, we are DEMANDING the following that:
1) the Capital Regional Office of National Park Service IMMEDIATELY erect a fence around the property and close down Shepherd Park for a minimum of 90 days while we, the Congress Heights community can establish a plan of action that involves NPS, DC Government, local law enforcement, community groups, local businesses etc. to establish an action plan to return this space to the community.
2) the DC government either immediately open a Daytime Center (even temporarily) or direct Catholic Charities the management nonprofit that manages 801 East to open a Daytime Center near the 801 East Homeless ON THE SAINT ELIZABETHS CAMPUS, BEHIND THE FENCE. Currently, the homeless men at the shelter are turned out at 7am and cannot return until 7pm. As a result, they are left to loiter and panhandle on Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave, in front of our businesses and schools and hang out in our common spaces such as Shepherd Park. These men deserve the dignity and opportunity to receive real care in a designated, safe and indoor space away from the Congress Heights main street. Our community can no longer afford to pay the price of DC government and nonprofits not investing in adequate waiting room and service space.
3) a meeting be held with members of the community and leadership from the National Capital Regional Office of NPS, DC Mayor's Office, Catholic Charities, Metropolitan Police Department and United States Park Police as well as Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White to discuss our concerns and establish a timeline of action and resolution.
Enough is enough! Close down Shepherd Park and give us the time and space to bring this community park, back to the community!
Congress Heights Residents To Restore Community Safe Spaces
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