Neighbors in Barrio Santa Rita say they frequently see drug use, violence, and a police presence at their local park.

John Moreno is the third generation of his family to live across the street from Santa Rita Park, and says what he sees today isn’t what he remembers from his childhood.

Ive been coming here since I was a boy, my grandparents’ house is next door,” Moreno said. We would go swimming every day in the swimming pool. Id make ice cream sodas with my grandparents. There would be baseball games going on.”

But now the swimming pool is closed and covered with graffiti. The playground structures are empty.

There are still some pick-up basketball games and people using the skate park. But Moreno says families with children are a rare sight.

He says the decline in park usage by the community has correlated with the increasing homeless population in Tucson.

“There are some people who utilize the park, but they have to put up with a lot to do it,” Moreno said.

Moreno isn’t the only one in his neighborhood fed up with the years of neglect to Santa Rita Park.

His friends Maria Haas and Jane Kroesen live across the street, and have their own stories to share about what they’ve experienced just outside their front door.

“It’s not just that these people are unhoused, they’re doing drugs,” Kroesen said. “That creates a whole different kind of environment for everyone.”

Somebody in November took one of my landscaping rods and beat the hinges off my gate,” Haas said. “People climb my walls. I can’t leave things out because they get stolen.”

Haas says she leaves firewood outside of her gate so people won’t climb her fence to take branches or plants.

The cameras outside of her house often catch police responses to the area.

But inside the park, Chris Amado says the area is an essential gathering place, as he and others don’t believe they have anywhere else to go.

“When I’m not here, I’m just wandering around Downtown,” Amado said.

Amado says he became homeless due to the rising prices in the U.S.

“I had financial issues,” Amado said. “Prices right now are going crazy, and it’s hard for people to keep up.”

He says the park provides shade on hot days and it is more comfortable to be in than on the street. He also doesn’t believe the people who gather there daily prevent anyone from using the park.

“Looks can be deceiving,” Amado said. “Honestly, theres just a lot of community going on with all the people here. I dont see anyone being of harm to anyone else that wants to utilize the park.”

Moreno, Haas, and Kroesen all disagree that the presence of homeless people isn’t preventing people from using the park.

Kroesen has grandkids, and says when they visit she chooses to take them to a different park that’s farther away, instead of Santa Rita which is visible from her house.

“I do not take them to this park, I would not. This park is dangerous for children,” she said.

Even with the issues, there is an improvement project slated to begin this fall at Santa Rita Park.

A spokesperson for the parks department said the plan is expected to cost around $8.5 million and begin this fall.

The money comes from a bond passed in 2018, and the park could be closed for a full year while construction takes place.

Neighbors are worried about what will happen when the park improvements begin.

We have not actively heard a real plan they can roll out for the people here, so that is extremely concerning,” Victora Devasto said.

Devasto also lives in Barrio Santa Rita and participated in a protest recently in the park.

She and others made signs criticizing clear-outs and calling upon the city to help the homeless in the park who inevitably will be displaced by the renovation project.

John Moreno agrees, especially if the renovation project begins as planned.

“There needs to be services for the unhoused,” Moreno said.

If everything stays status-quo, the neighbors fear that after improvements the conditions at the park will stay the same, with the community still not wanting to use it.

They have these plans without any idea as to what to do with the unhoused, As if theyre creating this beautiful park without taking it into consideration,” Kroesen said.