For years, First Street business owners had become used to violent fights, panhandling inside and outside their stores, physical and sexual harassment and intimidation — all because of vagrants on the way to and from Selby Five Points Park.
“It was horrible,” said Tatyana Sharoubim, owner of T.Georgiano’s shoe salon. “I’m here alone. I’m 25 years old and tiny, and these older men would come in, making horrible comments to me.”
Sharoubim is one of several business owners who have noticed a marked change since the city removed all the benches from Selby Five Points Park. The goal was to eliminate the congregation of transients who monopolized the benches, and it seems to be working. Many vagrants now are sitting at J.D. Hamel Park at the west end of Main Street.
“As a business owner, that helps,” said Olivia Bono, owner of Juno and Jove. “Keep the people who are just looking for a place to hang out away from the businesses.”
Bono said she objects to calling those people homeless. She said she is a supporter of homeless charities, however, Bono draws a distinction between homeless people who are down on their luck and vagrants who have no interest in finding work.
Eileen Wallace, owner of Write On and More, also has noticed a change.
“There’s not as much profanity and drunkenness,” she said. “It’s safer for my customers.”
Not everyone is pleased with the bench removal. A group of about two dozen people staged a sit-in at the park, bringing their own chairs or just sitting on the grass.
They contended the park is for everyone, whether they are homeless or not.
Bono, though, said she doesn’t understand their objection.
“There are plenty of places to sit downtown,” she said. “I don’t see why it has to be in front of our stores.”
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.