The following letter to City Councilor Sal LaMattina from the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park, FOCCP, details the April 20th incident with homeless people in the playground area of Christopher Columbus Park. It also requests certain protocols be put in place by the City of Boston, Parks Department, Boston Police and Health Department in future cases.
April 24, 2012
Councilman Salvatore LaMattina
Boston City Hall
Boston, MA 02201
RE: 4.20.12 Bodily Fluids in Playground
Dear Councilman LaMattina:
The following is the timeline of the incident with homeless in Columbus Park playground on Friday, April 20, 2012.
7:45 am. A 911 call was placed by a dad in the neighborhood about homeless people who were sleeping under the playground equipment in Columbus Park. He reported finding a razor blade in the area of the equipment and there was “blood all over the place” and a strong smell of urine. He also called the Mayor’s hotline and called your office.
9:30 am. I learned of the incident from an email sent by the man’s wife alerting the North End/Waterfront Mothers group. I sent an email to Commissioner Pollak who replied immediately saying she would alert Emergency Services and send a maintenance crew out to clean up.
9:45 am. I walked to the Park. The playground area was teeming with children and mothers. I walked around the equipment and to my horror, at the back side, 2 of the tunnels were smeared with blood, there was a large puddle of urine and feces under the equipment. A little boy was just about to crawl through the tunnel. I yelled at him to stop and then told everyone they had to leave. I waited for the clean up crew, keeping everyone out of the area.
11 am. I called Commissioner Pollak’s office again. Her assistant called Park’s maintenance while I was on the phone.
11:15 am. Park’s Department maintenance worker Michael D’Elia arrived. He washed down the area with water and a pine-scented solution. I didn’t think that was strong enough to kill HIV and hepatitis germs so I told him we’d wait until the power washer arrived before opening the area.
12:30 pm. Power washer arrived. He proceeded to spray the area. I asked if he was spraying disinfectant and he said, “No. It’s just water.” I said we needed a disinfectant. He had a gallon bottle of some kind of disinfectant in his truck that Michael poured all over the equipment and the areas under the equipment.
12:45 am. I left as Park’s Superintendent Steve Focillo was instructing Michael to shovel up the affected sand and bag it and throw it away.
After conversations with many people, it appears that this is the first time in the City of Boston that blood, urine and feces have been found on and around City playground equipment. While this may be true, I am incredulous that no one from any department thought it necessary to shut down the area until it was properly cleaned.
A protocol has to be established, with input from the Health Department, about how to respond to an incident like this. Simply stated:
Step 1. Officers should respond to the 911 call (which they did not) and after dealing with the homeless, secure the area with yellow caution tape until the area is cleaned.
Step 2. The Parks Department or some other entity should be responsible for cleaning up the mess with disinfectant that will kill AIDS and hepatitis germs. The CDC recommends a mixture of bleach and water (1:10) but that’s the Health Department’s call.
Going forward, FOCCP is taking the following actions:
- James Greene of Emergency Services and Sgt. Lema are addressing our members at our May meeting.
- Our members and neighbors have been advised to call 911 in the event of any behavior on the part of the homeless that is not appropriate, e.g., sleeping in the park, drinking, abusive behavior, etc.
- Our members will call 911 when we discover blankets or other materials that indicate homeless have been sleeping in the Park so that these incidents are documented.
- Our members will discard blankets and other materials in a safe manner.
Sgt. Lema has promised extra patrols over the next few weeks to see if anyone is sleeping in the playground or rose garden areas.
The playground area is totally dark at night. I request that the City install lights to further deter any other problems in the playground area.
If there are other steps the members of FOCCP and the neighborhood can take to assure this type of incident does not occur again, we are willing to help.
Copy: Commissioner Pollak
Sgt. Tom Lema
North End/Waterfront Mothers group