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Jan 22, 2014 8:47 PM by Nathan O'Neal

City to crack down on homeless at 'Safe Park' ahead of Gem Show

TUCSON - Homeless camps have taken hold over the so-called "Safe Park" in downtown prompting the city to crack down as it preps for the peak tourism season.

With just days until from the Gem Show, one of Tucson's biggest draws for tourism, the city is looking at putting its best foot forward. That means city leaders are looking to address the dozens of homeless persons at Veinte de Agosto Park.

Gregory Williams sleeps at "Safe Park" every night. He's one of several dozen homeless folks who worry that they might have to pack up and leave soon.

"They don't want people coming into the city and having the first thing they see when they come down Congress and Church is a homeless encampment ... and that's understandable," Williams told News 4 Tucson.

The Gem Show usually attracts about 55,000 visitors, adding a roughly $100 million infusion into the local economy.

While city ordinance prevents people from camping in a public park, sleeping on the sidewalk is OK given that it isn't blocked off.

Access to the park is especially important for some people choosing to sleep there, since the number of beds in Tucson shelters is scarce. There is only one available bed for every 10 homeless Tucsonans.

Roughly 7,600 homeless persons were reported in Pima County last year.

Michelle Ream, an outreach specialist with Primavera, works with homeless individuals on a daily basis.

"I've had to send people [to "Safe Park"] which is not an ideal referral for anyone, but when you have someone sitting in front of you crying, scared that they're going to be hurt or raped or have all their possessions stolen, you have to send them somewhere," Ream said. "This has been a place of last resort where we will send people."

News 4 Tucson reached out to the city multiple times but they were unavailable for comment.

As for Williams, he's worried about what kind of message trying to "clean out the homeless" sends about Tucson.

"If you're going to make people... be herded around like cattle because you don't want them seen by a bunch of people you're really not getting paid from anyway... That tells me there is seriously something wrong with the way this city is being run," Williams said.

News 4 Tucson is told that the individuals at the park will be served with a 72-hour notice to move out on Thursday morning.

» There are multiple updates to this story. Please click here to get the latest information.

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