‘Partying,’ hanging out a concern
A small group of local homeless people enjoy gathering every day to swap stories near Miner’s Trail behind The Stonehouse Restaurant, but some Nevada City residents say the transients interfere with their enjoyment of the area.
“It’s a darn shame what they do right above the restaurant,” said Nevada City resident and frequent trail runner Sid Heaton. “It’s a combination homeless camp and party spot.”
On April 3, a resident called Nevada City Police to report people whose drinking and smoking near the trail makes others uncomfortable.
“It makes people nervous,” Nevada City Police Chief Lou Trovato said, noting that reports have been few. “When the weather starts to get nice, more people use the trail and see this handful of transients.”
However, several homeless men gathered near the trail on a recent afternoon said no passersby have ever told them they are a nuisance.
“No one complains about anything,” said Patrick Carter, a 21-year-old Nevada City native who visits with his friends near the trail every day. He sat on the ground Thursday sipping on a beer and working on a puzzle.
“People walk past us and most of them say ‘hi,'” Carter said. “They’re cordial, friendly and happy.”
But the transients’ appearance can be alarming for some.
“To be honest, some of the people who hang out there don’t smell very good,” said Nevada City Police Sgt. Paul Rohde. “They’re not clean-shaven, it’s a little dark back there, and some people walking up get startled.”
Police respond to every call they receive and try to check on the area a few times every day, Trovato said.
“We will cite people if we see them drinking,” Trovato said. In 2002, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting drinking in public parks and trails without a permit.
If juveniles are caught by police drinking alcohol, they are cited and taken home to their parents. Adults are arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Trovato said.
There never has been an incident of violence in the area, Trovato said.
Dave Figge said he and his friends don’t bother anyone. He keeps his mild-mannered black mutt, Amy, on a leash.
Figge and his friend, William Kelly, camp every night in nearby woods, he said.
“Where else are we going to go?” Figge asked.
All of the men said police are frequent visitors to their spot.
“The cops are cool,” Carter said. “They’ll ask what we’re doing. Sometimes they’ll pour out our beer or check for warrants. They’re not rude or anything.”
Nearby, a man named Chris, wearing tattered, dirty blue jeans and a black jacket, was sleeping on the ground on his back with his arm slung over his face.
The man’s companions said he had a little bit too much to drink, but he would be OK.
“(Police) would probably take him if they were here,” Carter said.
If police see anyone lying down in the area, they will call an ambulance, Trovato said.
Runner Heaton said he understands the vagrants have a right to be in a public area, but they interfere with his right to enjoy a public space when their behavior makes him uncomfortable.
“My wife and kids call that spot ‘weird rock.’ I tell my kids it’s OK to say ‘hi,’ but they don’t have to have a conversation,” Heaton said. “It’s a tricky issue because they’re citizens of our county, but it’s a shame when they impinge on society. It’s just a shame.”
Trovato said the homeless people are not a threat to the public’s safety but agreed they are an annoyance to some.
“It’s a balancing act,” Trovato said. “There are standards of behavior and people shouldn’t have to put up with any nonsense.”
He encouraged people to continue to call police when transients make them uncomfortable.
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4236.
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