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Homelessness at local parks grows in summer

Summer has many eastern Idahoans spending warm days outside at the park, but parents are concerned about heading to South Tourist Park in Idaho Falls because of the homeless population.

Signs at South Tourist Park clearly read “one day camping only,” but many homeless people stay for an extended time, especially during the summer months.

Greg Weitzel, director of the Parks and Recreation Division of Idaho Falls, said he’s familiar with the homeless people at South Tourist Park.

“I’m sure there are some folks who are homeless, but as far as our perspective in the parks, we don’t see it as a big problem. We’ll put a note on their campsite and say you’ve extended your stay and it’s time to move on. We haven’t had any serious problems,” said Weitzel.

Weitzel added even though the homeless population is low at parks, he’s not hesitant to involve the police if parkgoers become upset.

“That’s when we’ll call the police in and we can cite them,” said Weitzel.

Citing the homeless doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s usually younger people.

“I think that’s probably due to the drugs and alcohol issues that we’re seeing in our community,” said David McKinney, director of the Idaho Falls Rescue Mission.

He agreed with Weitzel that homelessness in Idaho Falls is not a huge problem, but it is a growing concern.

“We used to feed about 35 people a night, which is anyone in the community that wants to come have dinner with us. Now we’re feeding 75 people a night, it can get up to a 120 at the end of the month,” said McKinney.

At the Idaho Falls Rescue Mission, they offer beds to anyone in need, but staying overnight means a 7 p.m. curfew, no drinking, no drugs and no cellphones after 9 p.m.

“If they don’t want to follow rules they don’t want to stay here,” said McKinney.

The rules at most of the shelters are not very restrictive, but most people who end up at the parks often want to live by their own rules.

Weitzel added city workers empty the trash at parks twice a day and lock the bathrooms at night to help keep the homeless out and also keep vandalism down.

The Parks and Recreation Division says if you see a problem, let them know by stopping at their offices on Memorial Drive in Idaho Falls.

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