By Tony Ault
Staff Writer 

Homeless outreach events at Hemet's Weston Park see high-profile police response and little homeless turnout


Last updated 1/10/2019 at 8:59pm

Tony Ault photo

The "Punks in the Park," a local Hemet punk rock band entertains listeners at Weston Park, Saturday, Dec. 19, and protests interference in giving out free food to the homeless as "Food is a Right, Not a Privilege."

It was cool, crisp day, Saturday, Dec. 29, in Hemet's Weston Park when two small groups set up, one filled a table full of warm socks and toiletries in bright red stockings and the other group opened their guitar cases and a small box of food. Both groups said they wanted to help the homeless frequenting the park grounds.

Many of the homeless invited through word-of-mouth and notices online for free food, a little entertainment and well wishes never appeared. Hemet police waited on the two adjacent streets connecting with Florida Avenue and the park frontage for the homeless crowds they thought might show up.

Several officers talked with residents in the bank parking lot next door, and they also stopped to talk with both groups in the park, noting their need for permits to set up their tables for their events.

The only other people in the park that morning was a lone basketball player shooting hoops and a small group of bicycle riders, some known to be homeless but mobile, gathering in the southeast corner of the park. A few were seen by the playground equipment in the park.

It wasn't long before all the police cars and the officers left to pursue their other duties, the groups said.

The "Punks in the Park" trio, made up of musicians Karina Jones, Aerial Garcia and Monique Corona, said they appear in local parks and in backyards. They held a sign, which said "Food is Right. Not a Privilege."

"We have acoustic bands to come and play while we feed the homeless," Jones said. "We try to create unity with music. Something the kids could do like change the tone and bring good deeds from the music we love."

She said they have come to Weston Park before, but the officers confronted them today, the trio said.

"They said that they support our cause, but they're not too thrilled with the entitled white people over there trying to come over here to yell at us isn't necessary to yell at us for, but we have to follow code. So they told us as long as we're here not causing any trouble we're welcome to stay here," they said.

They said the local police actually do support their cause, and if they get a permit, they can continue to come to the park. Garcia said they did have a permit through "the health board" but not with the city. They plan to obtain a city permit the next time they appear in the park.

It was a little different story at a table set up a few hundred feet away on the west side of the park. Michelle Wilkins, the founder of "Lovin Life," set up her table with brightly colored Christmas stockings containing a few toiletries, a pair of socks and other personal items for the homeless people at Weston Park.

However, she said, the first person to show up that morning was a Hemet police officer who gave her a warning as she was setting up the table.

She said her group "Lovin Life" began by helping homeless people in the Riverside river bottom and is now at work in seven states.

She said she was completely surprised by the officer who showed up as she was unloading her car with the table and gifts. He told her he needed to call the watch commander before she set up and got a ticket, she said.

"Then he came (the watch commander Sgt. Cummings) and told me it was OK, so long as it wasn't food," Wilkins said. "He said you cannot give it out (the hygiene items). He said food is one thing, sanitation is another... then he showed me on his phone the laws of the park – you cannot give out hygiene or nothing, he said. Even though these are the basics. Even these are my own belongings, I can't give them out. He said 'no,' even if this was my jacket and wanted to give it to somebody."

She said, "This is the first place we have ever been totally harassed by the police. Usually, they never give us no problem. In Riverside is never; they don't give us no problem either. We usually go around the shelters; we go all around the world. This is what we do for a living."

She said the sergeant told her they could go over the church, and it would be no problem since the church is private property. She said she was a "giver," and there needs to be more givers for the homeless.

"We live to give," Wilkins said.

She said the Lovin Life group in Reno, Nevada, was disturbed by the police at first when they were attracting large crowds for free food. The chapter, she said, recruited more helpers and now feeds 250 people every month, and the police don't bother them.

While Wilkins packed up her table, the Punks in the Park and local entertainer and acoustic guitarist Juan Valdivia leader of the "Raztezalii" band played, suggesting it was their form of "protest." A few of the homeless and other park visitors listened to the music with no further police intervention.

In recent months, the Hemet City Council amended several ordinances affecting the local city park to reduce vandalism and other problems allegedly committed by the homeless frequenting the park. A number of residents have complained to council and the police that they were afraid to use the park facilities due to harassment by the homeless.

A Homeless Task Force has been formed to help resolve some of the growing homeless problems in the city, and police have stepped up their patrols.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at [email protected]

Tony Ault photo

Michelle Wilkins from the "Lovin Life" group offers free hygiene items to the homeless at a table at Hemet's Weston Park Saturday, Dec. 29.


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