Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Goebel Park


All those who abide law belong

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        Clean, well-rested, lucky people are welcome to visit Covington's Goebel Park, but they'll have to share it with everyone else.

        That's the reality of urban living. All sorts of interesting folks are drawn to public parks, including the homeless. If they're not breaking any laws, they have as much right as anyone to sit at picnic tables and enjoy the view.

        Homeless men do visit Goebel Park occasionally. This month, they were thrust into the spotlight by residents who want them gone.

        The city and MainStrasse Neighborhood Association sponsored a fix-up day to trim bushes and paint the park's shelter. Their hope: If it looks better, it will attract a “better” crowd. If the undergrowth is cut back, homeless men will be driven out and families can return.

        Some parents are uncomfortable taking small children to the park because they perceive homeless people as a threat, said Rachel DeLugish of the Covington Community Center. She helps coordinate the MainStrasse Neighborhood Association.

        Goebel Park sits at Philadelphia and Fifth Streets — a gateway to Covington. Tourists occasionally are approached by panhandlers, officials say. Other complaints involve people getting drunk or having sex in nearby bushes.

        These last two activities are illegal in public, and police should take appropriate action. To discourage hanky-panky, volunteers also will be trimming the brush between the park and I-75.

        What police and citizens must not do — what no one has the right to do — is declare general war on the homeless. People cannot be told to “move along” during a park's regular hours just because they could use a shower.

        And like it or not, nonaggressive panhandling is a form of free speech. As long as people are willing to drop quarters on the down-and-out, there will be requests for those quarters. MainStrasse is hardly the first tourist destination to come with a few beggars.

        Furthermore, many of Covington's homeless are against panhandling. Beset by addictions, mental problems and bad luck, they are nevertheless a proud, stubborn lot. Panhandling is demeaning, they say. They won't do it.

        These men occasionally gather at Goebel Park for informal meetings to mull their problems. Last winter, they were kind enough to let me sit in.

        I met a wandering preacher who, on his good days, acted as a father figure to others on the street. His bad days were consumed by depression.

        I met a young man named John — poet, day laborer and member of a tent community along the river.

        I met Joe, a gentle soul who swept parking lots for a living and blunted his sadness with alcohol.

        Then there was Cody, a bona fide hero.

        In 1997, Cody found the contents of a woman's purse scattered along railroad tracks in Covington. He carefully collected it all — wallet, pictures, planner, makeup, credit cards — and returned it.

        The grateful woman offered a reward, but Cody declined. His good deed landed him in the newspaper, under the headline “The unexpected good guy.”

        MainStrasse residents should be so lucky as to know this man.

        If they're afraid of Cody and his kind, they should confine themselves to their own back yards — and be grateful they have them.

        Karen Samples is The Enquirer's Kentucky columnist. Her column appears on Sundays and Thursdays in The Kentucky Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or email her at ksamples@enquirer.com

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