TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - For years, we have heard from residents and businesses about the seemingly dire situation at De Anza Park. Families have long avoided the playground and picnic tables, which have become home to a large transient population.
With violence and drug use out in the open, the Tucson Parks and Recreation Department launched an initiative more than a year ago to clean things up.
On Monday morning, authorities took action.
Three inmates, accompanied by Tucson Police, picked up several bags of trash. The grass, once strewn with litter, is now mostly clean.
However, no families returned to the park. Mercedes Martin was not surprised.
“I am sure it’s been done before where they pick up trash, but again, it’s not just the trash that’s stopping the people from going, it’s the situation,” she said.
As the front desk attendant at the University Inn, Martin has had a front row seat to the “situation” right across the street for years.
“[The homeless] spend a lot of days at the park, which wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact it comes with a lot of drug needles in the area, unwanted fights,” she said.
One of those fights was caught on camera by Justus Smith. The video, recorded on Sunday, shows a man getting out of his vehicle and yelling at a group of people in the park. The man is then chased by three men with makeshift weapons, including a crowbar. You can see the man being hit repeatedly by two of the men until he draws blood. Smith says the man’s car was then stolen, and adds authorities were contacted.
Smith lives just feet from where the incident took place.
“I feel relatively safe here at this park, but I don’t feel safe having my guests wait for me,” he said. “When I am coming from my door to let them in the house, I always have to bring my gun out.”
Martin says the Inn recently put up a wall to make their guests feel safer.
“Three years ago, there was a man [from the park] who was trying to break in one of the doors on the second floor,” she said.
While the wall helps keep potential danger out, Martin says it’s sad it also closes guests off from what could be a great amenity. She sees the cleanup as a band-aid solution.
“It’s great!” she said. “But it’s not a permanent solution, eventually the trash will pile up again.”
Martin says authorities are doing the best they can with the resources they have, but she would like to see more social services offered to those struggling with mental health and dependency problems.
She would also like to see more enforcement.
“They have to come up with more rules and regulations; you can’t bring this, you can’t bring your camping tent to stay here overnight,” said Martin.
We did speak with police who told us they are working to address this ongoing problem. They also told us Monday’s cleanup was impromptu. According to the Police Department, officers are usually the ones cleaning up the parks every couple of weeks and they rotate which ones cared for.
We also reached out to Parks and Recreation to see how far along the city is with its plan to make De Anza a more inviting place. We have not heard back yet.