Bradenton to homeless: Riverwalk is no campground

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BRADENTON - When it comes to Bradenton's soon-to-open Riverwalk Park, every last detail has been planned out. And now officials are laying plans to make sure the area's homeless don't try to turn the park into a campground.

"People will not be allowed to sleep there overnight, and so that's a focus," says David Gustafson of the Downtown Development Authority. He says he has the budget to hire an extra police officer to patrol the Riverwalk. "Our goal is to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to utilize the park and they can come and enjoy it and then go home," said Gustafson.

A 2006 anti-lodging ordinance prevents transients from setting up shop in any public area.

"It's common sense," says Bradenton Police Captain Warren Merriman. "The officer is going to make that determination if someone's taking a noon lunch break there, or if they're actually camping."

Area homeless advocates say the park may present itself as an attractive spot for the homeless. "Certainly I think it is absolutely a legitimate concern for the city and for the developers of that new Riverwalk," said Christine Smith of the Salvation Army.

However, Smith says she'd like to think the areas homeless know where to turn to for help if they need it. "We would hope that they would want to come to the Salvation Army and stay in the shelter with us, and they wouldn't feel as though they had to sleep on a park bench," said Smith. "That they understand there is another option for them."