OAKLAND -- Community leaders are asking the City of Oakland to reinvest in a playground many families are fearful to use.
Clinton Square is in the heart of Oakland's Little Saigon District. A tent has been camped out at the playground for a couple of years.
Dr. Jennifer Tran, president of the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, was born and raised just a few blocks away from the park. She remembered the excitement of attending the Mid-Autumn Festival held at the park each year.
"Wearing traditional Vietnamese dresses and playing music," said Tran.
But few families use Clinton Park or the playground nowadays.
A tent, a large trash bin, and other items are set up directly under the slide structure on the playground. And there's fire damage throughout the playground. In fact, a homeless man started a fire while KPIX 5 was there to do the report.
"If someone is inhabiting this place, or several people, then it's not going to be very welcoming," said Tran.
Tran said the problem started even before the pandemic. There were a couple of dozen tents in and around the park. An encampment fire in 2021 destroyed a part of the community center next to the playground. It's being rebuilt right now.
The city shut down the encampment around the same time in 2021. But some people came back within a month and pitched a tent back on the playground.
"A lot of our communities are refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia and from Central America," said Tran.
The area is very diverse, and the park is surrounded by mostly Chinese and Vietnamese businesses.
A Ukrainian grandmother who used to take E.S.L. classes at the community center in the park said families avoid it thinking it's not safe. She no longer uses the park.
"I'm really sad, I don't understand why our government cannot resolve this problem with the homeless," said neighbor Zhanna Zak.
Tran and other community organizations met with some city officials on Thursday to talk about solutions. Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas represents the area. She said Clinton Park is one of her top priorities and that the city plans to offer people living the park transitional housing so families can feel comfortable returning to the playground.
"While I feel optimistic, I just really want to stress we can't do this on our own. We need resources, we need investments from different institutions and different partners," said Tran.
Dr. Tran added that it's important to provide people in the park permanent housing, otherwise, they'll return to live in the park just like they did last time.
The city did not provide a timeline as to how soon they can fix the problem. Tran said she and other community groups will follow up with the city in a few weeks.
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