Sunday. Oak Park is filled with large family parties and small groupings — celebrating birthdays, baby showers, and some type of stick yoga — and eight men testing what seems like soaring equipment. A few from the neighborhood are walking their dogs, on and off leash; a lot of locals stay away on the weekends because they don’t like the party music and activities, so it’s nice otherwise to have the place to myself and my rescue dog as we pass through the joyful parties, smells of yummy barbecues, and sounds of happy kids running up to pet Ranger, my terrier mix.
The long-term homeless who use the park during the week clear out on weekends or cross over to the other side of Mission Creek where few or no parties are held. I believe it’s a bargain that’s struck with the maintenance crew (who do a great job) and police to stay away from the public on weekends and they’ll be left alone if they’re out of sight.
When heading back home we passed the lower park where couples on blankets and young mothers with babies hung out away from the crowds. A homeless man was asleep next to his overlaoded cart. I see this frequently, with or without the cart, and there’s nothing to do except walk around him. It’s very unpleasant, though, especially with little kids running around. Day before yesterday I was in the same area, where Ranger loves to find gopher holes, when I spotted a folded crisp $5 bill. Picking it up, I then noticed a man in a sleeping bag cozied under a tree below.
I’m used to coming upon the homeless sleeping in semi-hidden spots so I wasn’t scared, but I figured this $5 must be his so I tried to let him know I was coming closer to drop the bill, calling out “Mister,” “Hey, mister.” The bill kept dropping in wrong place so I came closer and finally woke him up. He was startled, but I tossed the bill on top of him and said it must be his. He grumbled “thanks” as I was climbing out. He looked sort of clean-shaven, but I knew by his belongings that he was on his own.
In the lower park we ran into this homeless man I call “the flailer” as he walks constantly up and down the sidewalks flailing his arms and trying to control his tics and giant wide strides that are somewhat tipsy. Ranger can detect a homeless peson a mile away. Whatever his past is, he gets aggressive around them, so I move out of the way to avoid disturbing this poor mentally and physically disabled person. It’s clear he’s not dangerous, and I can tell the days social workers have gotten him to take meds and the days he’s off. He’s a completely different person. I feel very bad for him.
We do not have an answer to the homeless problem nor do most cities that grapple with this problem, but they are not all the same. I dislike the drunks and grifters in the park, while I feel bad for the mentally ill and some of the unfortunate others.
I’m moving from this Oak Park neighborhood in a few months to a semi-rural area near a park where the homeless are not prevalent, just lots of neighbors, dogs, and their owners. But I think I’m going to miss the lively weekends at Oak Park and the cross section of people of all kinds.