SUNLAND – First, the grocery carts rolled in. Then the mattresses were plopped down.
For Kathy Wilson and other residents of Sunland, the increase of homeless people who sleep all day in the shade of pine trees at the local park has sparked outrage and a feeling of helplessness.
“I feel for them,” Wilson said one recent day as she strolled through Sunland Park.
“But on the other hand, if I had young children, I wouldn’t bring them here.”
For decades, Sunland has attracted the rebels and the desperadoes to its borders, especially to the Big Tujunga Wash at the edge of the Angeles National Forest, where people who prefer to live on their own terms have set up encampments.
But after recent police sweeps through the wash to dismantle those encampments, the homeless have dispersed to other areas, many to Sunland Park, some residents have observed.
Recent police crackdowns have helped, but Wilson believes the cycle is chronic.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” she said.
Some residents have documented the increase, with photos circulating on social networking sites of accumulating shopping carts and even mattresses.
“I’ve been getting messages from those at the senior center who are horrified,” said Tomi Bowling, a board member of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council. “These are drunks. These are tweakers. They don’t want to live in a society that has rules. They want to live off the grid.”
But finding a solution remains a challenge. Some say there is a chronic cycle of homelessness throughout the northeast San Fernando Valley. And the homeless population is diverse: there are those who live in parks or in the wash by choice. Many are couples with pets. The self-described alcoholics say they keep to themselves, away from the drug addicted. Others say many of the homeless suffer from mental illness. And some have simply fallen victim to joblessness as a result of the economy.
Sunland’s distance from several social service agencies also contributes to the issue, some say, which is why consistent collaboration between nonprofit and government agencies is needed, said Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian.
“Just moving homeless people from one place to another doesn’t serve the homeless’ needs, and doesn’t serve the public,” Krekorian said. “There’s little that can be done to prevent otherwise law-abiding people from using the park.”