OAKLAND (KPIX) – A once vibrant East Bay park now looks desolate.
Madison Square Park is located in Oakland Chinatown, between Madison and Jackson Streets. It was a popular hangout spot for Chinese seniors but they stopped going there after the homeless set up tents in the middle of the park.
“People would be dancing over there. [There would be] another Tai Chi group over there,” said De Juan Zhu through a translator, pointing out different parts of the park. “It was filled with at least a few hundred people.”
The Chinese grandmother started coming to the park to do Tai Chi in 2002. She said it helped her improve her health and meet a lot of new friends. There was a sense of community and unity.
“Every morning at 7:30, we would do Tai Chi here. Over there, about one hundred people would exercise. It was very fun, very vibrant,” said Zhu, who gave KPIX a tour of where people would work out in the park.
In old YouTube videos shot about 10 years ago, the footage showed a packed park with hundreds of seniors. People were stretching, dancing, and playing badminton.
She said the community broke apart after the homeless set up tents about two years ago. Slowly after, many seniors stopped coming to the park.
“People were fearful to come. They saw the tents and the trash, and everybody got scared. It turned this into a desolate park,” said Zhu.
Joe DeVries, assistant to the Oakland City Administrator, said they removed some of the homeless about six months ago after people complained they were harassing students who came from nearby schools for their PE classes. Now, the schools and students have also stopped using Madison Square Park.
“They [were] inappropriately touching the kids and also scaring off many seniors,” said Chinese Community Leader Carl Chan.
The playground in the park is now full of weeds. It appeared no one has used the slide or the swings in a while. On Saturday afternoon, I small kid about 5 years old tried to play at the playground, but his mom pulled him out of there.
“People are smoking marijuana. It’s not the right place for kids. We have to leave. My son’s not happy,” said Yu Fang Ding, who’s hoping the city will do something to clean up the park.
Chan said he’s doesn’t want to kick the homeless out without providing shelter. He said the right solution is to find permanent housing for them.
“We want to help them, but at the same time, we are hoping that we can [continue to] allow our seniors, our children to come back.,” said Chan.
DeVries said they will set up a cabin community two blocks away from the park in October. That’s when they plan to clear out the remaining six tents from the park and ask the homeless to move to the cabin community.
“Hopefully that will happen, at that time, we all are going to celebrate,” said Chan.
Some seniors are skeptical. They worry the homeless will come back once city workers leave, which happened before. That’s why they want a permanent solution so they can finally have their park back.