Gulfport’s beach pavilions are still available for those who wish to use them, but the rules have changed.
Anyone who intends to be at a pavilion for more than three hours in a single day is now required to make a reservation with the city’s recreation department. New signage at all of the pavilions emphasizes this detail. Gulfport Public Works Director Tom Nicholls confirmed that workers from the Parks Division installed them Dec. 21.
Citing Gulfport ordinance 17-26, the signs indicate that violation of the new rule constitutes trespassing. The ordinance states that use of all park facilities — including shelters, tables, or benches — is generally on a first-come, first-served basis, but the city manager or his designee can establish regulations for the reservation of specific park facilities.
That is exactly what Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly did, as he recommended several weeks ago at a city council meeting and with which the council members agreed. Council and the city manager discussed the change primarily in response to multiple complaints from residents about homeless encampments in the city.
Resident Karen Love told council on several occasions about a man she felt interacted with her so aggressively that she felt her safety was threatened, and she has often reported on specific pavilions at the park that have essentially become homes for people who park there each night.
“I don’t have the answer, but I don’t think it’s right for the residents to not really have access to our own pavilions anymore because this is where people are living full time,” she said at a November council meeting. “And if you haven’t been down there to see it with your own eyes, I would encourage you to do so.”
Other residents have noted that homeless people occupy the pavilions for extended periods of time, keeping residents of the city from using them. Residents have also logged complaints about people defecating in garbage cans and urinating in public.
Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent pointed out in a recent interview with The Gabber that law enforcement officers are limited in what they can do in areas that are free and open to the public, and the fact that several such areas exist in Gulfport make it an attractive spot for the region’s homeless population.