Public park closed to the public

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SARASOTA - First they removed the benches and now there is bright orange fencing blocking access to the lawn at Five Points Park.  Is it to protect the grass, as the city says, or is it because of the homeless?

"We have just as much rights as everybody else to be in this park," said Jennifer Purple, one of the homeless people who use Five Points Park daily.  But all of that changed when the city of Sarasota installed orange plastic fencing, blocking off all the grassy area at the park. 

"Because we are residentially challenge and don't have a place to live does not mean that we can't come sit out here every day and enjoy the park," said Jennifer.

Jennifer and many of the other homeless people in the area are convinced the fencing was put up just to keep them out. But, when we reached out to the city they had a different explanation.

"Its a heavily used park, and the foot traffic has been making it tough on the grass.  So what we've done is fenced off the area to try to get back and protect our investment in the park," said Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat.

Jeffcoat says 8 months ago the city invested about $5,000 to remove and install new sod at the park, but the lack of sunlight caused by the oak trees and the constant use is degrading the lush look of that sod.

"Just like in your own yard, if you have things that lay on it for a long time or your sitting on the grass for a long time it does impact it, it will mat it down and things of that nature," said Jeffcoat.

Officials say the dead patches of grass is their main concern.  And, they say with several major events scheduled for this area in the coming months, they are hoping the fencing will help bring the grass back.  But, not everyone is buying that story.

"They don't want us out here and its not like we're bad," said Jennifer.

But some speculate that a fight between two homeless people at the park, that was witnessed by the city manager prompted the move. 

Still Jennifer says its not right, "because we don't have the money to live indoors, and we have some challenges in our lives, does not mean we should be looked down at or treated any differently."