St. Vincent de Paul Parish is still grappling with how to reopen the corner park adjacent to its downtown church since it was forced to close the area Sept. 21.
The gates have been closed and the steps of the church marked off with yellow caution tape, due to growing problems with illegal drug sales, according to Colleen McCahill, the pastoral associate.
“We just can’t have the drugs here,” she said.
On three recent nights, evidence of K2 paraphernalia was found on the church steps and security camera video showed crowds gathering on the steps all three nights about 2 a.m., according to McCahill.
“It’s a Baltimore problem,” she said of the use and sale of K2, an illegal street drug usually rolled with tobacco.
A small group of parishioners, many of whom have long years of experience working with the park, have formed a committee to decide how to confront the problem.
It may be several more weeks or even months before the park can re-open.
The parish purchased the city park on the corner of President and East Fayette Streets in 2000. By then the small green space surrounded by a wrought iron fence had become a place to rest for those experiencing homelessness or near homelessness. Father Richard Lawrence, then the pastor, defended the people’s right to rest there.
Since the parish took it over, it has set up strict rules, including closing the park for cleaning 7-9 each morning and allowing no belongings to remain at the park.
Compounding the problem is the resignation of the staff member who woke up those who slept in the park and cleaned the park, McCahill said. His resignation was unrelated to the closure of the park.
In the meantime, regular ministries have continued. The food pantry still opens on Monday and Mass is offered every day. The Friday night dinner open to anyone and which usually attracts many who are hungry served 177 people Oct. 11.
“All of our parish life is continuing,” McCahill said, but added they are not seeing many of those they are used to seeing every day.