MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Neighbors living near Pioneer Park in Mesa say the park is becoming a gathering place for people experiencing homelessness, and it's causing issues in their community.
"We've seen an influx of people that are coming here and camping out," said Michael Allen, who heads up the safety team at nearby Hillsong Church. "I'd say in the past three months it's been way worse than normal."
Allen has taken a video of the piles of trash and belongings left behind by people who move from the park to the church to camp out at night. He says sometimes the debris they leave is dangerous, like hypodermic needles.
"Urinating and defecating, and some vandalism," Allen said. "So, it's starting to become a big problem for us."
"A lot of places are closed," said Matthew Hendry, an outreach coordinator with the Phoenix Rescue Mission. "A lot of people shut their doors."
Some homeowners say they've had unwelcome visitors.
"I have a 13-year-old son who hasn't slept in a week," said Mary Beth Bannon, whose house is located close to the park.
Bannon caught a man on her security camera, rummaging around her backyard and trying to get into her house. She says she's had to call police four times in the last week, though she suspects it's been the same person -- a man she believes is living at and around the park.
Starting next week, the county will make sure the homeless population gets the tools to stay safe during this crisis.
"They're just like running around through these neighborhoods," Bannon said.
It's an issue that's on the City of Mesa's radar.
"We have worked diligently with the residents and businesses around Pioneer Park on these issues and reducing potential crime related to the homeless population," said Mesa Assistant Police Chief Ed Wessing. "The Mesa Police Department recently installed an overt security camera system that is monitored for criminal activity in the middle of Pioneer Park."
Assistant Chief Wessing also says they've recently launched a new program called "Operation Off the Streets" in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A team of police officers and nonprofit partners are working together to officer homeless persons temporary housing to keep them healthy and safe during the coronavirus crisis.
"People making minimum wage cannot afford to pay the rent. And a lot of people who are working are becoming homeless because they can't afford a place to live," said Lisa Glow, the CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services.
Wessing says the city is also investing more than $10 million to provide additional resources and shelter for Mesa's homeless this year.
"Pioneer Park is an amazing asset for the community and we want it to be a welcome place for the community," Wessing said.