Citing public health issues, city to temporarily close Baristo Park

Baristo Park along South Calle Encilia, nicknamed “Heroin Park,” will be closed by the city in an effort to clean it up and make it more secure for residents.

City leaders announced Tuesday they will temporarily close Baristo Park after deeming it “detrimental to the health and safety of the public.”

The park, which has earned the nickname “Heroin Park” due to an ever-increasing amount of drug use among members of the homeless community who camp there, has been the subject of public outrage for years. Residents who live in the surrounding neighborhoods have voiced concerns about not only drug use, but incidents of indecent exposure, destruction of public property, and the frequent discovery of needles and human feces on park grounds and the surrounding streets and sidewalks.

Public safety data supplied by the city shows problem are escalating. Police and fire calls for service at Baristo Park have increased from 558 between 2017 and 2019 to more than 1,245 from 2019 to the present.

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The park, located at 296 S. Calle Encilia, is expected to temporarily close to the public within the next few weeks for about six weeks while the city addresses the ongoing issues. Among work planned for the park will be a safety inspection, security camera installation, and a complete cleaning and overseeding of the lawn.

“In order to protect public health and safety, the City is taking this step to address persistent issues in the park related to a small group of transient individuals,” said City Manager Justin Clifton, in a written statement.

The park closure is just one of several steps the city is now taking to address the crisis of homelessness in Palm Springs. In August, the city partnered with Martha’s Village and Kitchen to open a new daytime drop-in center with wraparound services for unhoused individuals near the airport. City leaders are also exploring sites for a campus that would provide transitional housing and services for those experiencing homelessness in Palm Springs.

“The City of Palm Springs is committed to compassionately managing the impacts of homelessness while finding solutions in order to help our unhoused population obtain permanent and supportive housing,” said Clifton. “Building a new navigation center provides a unique opportunity to make a real impact and greatly expand our ability to serve our unhoused population while reducing secondary impacts that can affect quality of life.”

Over the weekend, a group formed to proactively combat homelessness issues in the city, Community Partnership on Homelessness, began circulating a petition calling for the park’s closure.

“This intervention is long overdue,” organizers wrote in an email announcing the petition. “We believe this action will ultimately benefit both the current park occupants and the community at large. It is neither humane nor in the public interest to enable this behavior in a public space. This petition asks the city to secure the park and then reopen it as a youth-focused park that is accessible to local residents and their children.”

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