WILKES-BARRE – According to regulations, homeless camps erected in Kirby Park's Nature Area are illegal.
A city ordinance adopted in 1980 closes city parks from sunset to sunrise. Violation of the ordinance is punishable by fines of $25 to $300 and up to 90 days in jail.
It is an ordinance city Police Chief Gerard Dessoye said is not strictly enforced, if at all.
Dessoye said he is aware the homeless are staying in the wooded area by the Susquehanna River, which was created after the 1936 flood when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the levee splitting Kirby Park in two.
The homeless population typically poses a societal issue rather than a law enforcement problem, Dessoye said. It's not our problem until a crime occurs, said Dessoye. It's a social issue. If you go back to the Depression era, you would see most people were living in shacks.
Kingston Police Chief Keith Keiper said homelessness becomes an issue for his department only when a complaint is filed for an incident. Most of the time, Keiper said, the complaints involve homeless people loitering outside a business or knocking on a home's door, asking for money.
There have been complaints of people ransacking cars in the neighborhood along the river, but Keiper said it is difficult to trace the vandalism and thefts to the homeless population. Keiper said he is unaware of any homeless camps that have been erected along the river in Kingston.
Dessoye said, technically, if police want to chase the homeless from the nature area, they could issue citations under the 1980 ordinance that closes city parks at sunset.
If we move them out, where are we going to move them to? Dessoye said. Right now, they are not a problem to anyone. The last record I checked was police were called to break up a rift between two homeless men. Equally, popular opinion is to have more tolerance for the homeless than to aggressively persecute them.
At least six homeless people, all of whom would not provide their full names, said police destroyed tents that had been set up near the Susquehanna River.
Dessoye said he has no knowledge of officers destroying the tents. More importantly, I don't see the advantage of police doing that, he said.
The chief said if police were to expel people from the park, which closes after dark, the more logical tactic would be to cite them.
Said Keiper: To be honest, I don't think my guys go down there unless we're called. There is nothing there. As long as they're law-abiding citizens, there is no reason to bother them.
Times Leader reporter Bill O'Boyle contributed to this story.