Homeless, Drug-Users Take Over Park; Oakhurst Man Takes It Back - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Homeless, Drug-Users Take Over Park; Oakhurst Man Takes It Back

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OAKHURST, Calif. (KMPH) -

"These beautiful picnic structures were covered with graffiti. This half of the lawn was brown. One bathroom was locked, the other one was filthy," Flint Tompkins said looking out over the Oakhurst Community Park.

For Tompkins, the community park is supposed to be a place for play dates, not people shooting up.

"They would see homeless people. But there was also a group out here that we might call people who drank and used drugs out here. There was also a group here that some people might identify as a criminal element," Tompkins said.

"There were groups of people all over the park in various stages of whatever they were doing," Ron Thompson, who volunteers at the Park with Tompkins, said.

The park had been going downhill for a while.

"Sometimes when these people would drink and use drugs, they would get loud and that would be particularly fearful for mothers and children," Tompkins said.

"Probably the thing that I saw the least of were families feeling welcome in the park," Don Weber, who volunteers with Tompkins at the park, said.

Flint realized no one was addressing the problem, so he took it upon himself to do something.

He started going to the park every day.

He set up a table and volunteers soon turned out to help.

The idea is that the park is for the entire community, not those who want to come out and start trouble.

"We pray every day. We pray all day long. We pray for people who we see that have problems. We pray that the forces of darkness will flee and that the children and women will come back to the park," Tompkins said.

"We've never said an unkind or a harsh word to anybody… The only really firm boundaries we have is there is a law against drinking in the park. If you drink in the park, we're going to call law enforcement."

The result was a park given back to the people.

"It's nice to be able to come without having kids listen to language you don't really want them to hear," Jay Schrank, who brought his granddaughter to the park, said.

"The graffiti is gone. The attitude of the people who are part of the park has changed too, tremendously," Thompson said.

"I noticed things like the bathrooms actually functioning, the drinking fountains working, the lawns being mowed and moms feeling free to bring their children in here," Weber said.

Flint, who is 70 years young, says he didn't do this to be a hero.

But he's thrilled to see the park moving in the right direction.

"It's simply a situation of occupy. If we don't use it, somebody else will," he said.

Not only are more people now going to the Oakhurst Park because of Tompkins's efforts, but more events are being held there as well.

Just this past weekend, the annual Wine and Chocolate festival was held there.

And every Thursday, a woman goes to the park to read to kids.

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