Refugees on Borough Fields
Like it or not, Whitehall Borough has been forced to handle a large influx of refugee families to its community over the past several years.
And a great deal of those people have taken residence in the apartments of the Wallace (Prospect) Park area, very near some borough fields that are also near and dear to the hearts of those running the Baldwin-Whitehall Athletic Association (BWAA)—a baseball and softball organization open to children from all communities.
The president of the BWAA—Gary Remlinger—and his wife, Melanie, both of Varner Road, spoke to the Whitehall Council at its meeting on Wednesday night, expressing concern over how some refugees have been treating those parks—specifically, Prospect and Highland.
According to Gary, large groups of refugees have been using those parks' ball fields frequently (mostly Prospect but also Highland when Prospect is occupied) to play soccer, and when they're finished, they often leave the facilities in what Gary calls an "embarrassing" state.
"I'm not just talking about the physical field (at Prospect) itself," Gary said, "(but) if you go down and look at the field, you can see how they've worn a path through our outfield, where it's basically dirt.
"So that's just one thing, but it's the overall appearance of the way they leave the place down there when they're playing on the fields—bending the fences, leaving garbage all over the place. We've had people urinating in front of the concession stand.
"It's just a total embarrassment, to me, for our community, how they treat that area."
The Remlingers could not prove that any of the alleged culprits were refugees, but Councilman Robert McKown agreed with Gary's assumption that they most likely were.
The Remlingers also said that some groups of people having been crossing through residents' property while on their way to and from Highland Park (near The ACLD Tillotson School).
"I imagine you've had several complaints of them walking through the neighborhood, causing problems, whether they're breaking into things, destroying things," Gary said. "I don't have a solution for you today, but I do want to bring that to your awareness.
"I'm a resident of that side of (Route) 51. I expect our area to be nice, well-kept, safe ... and that's not the case with the residents that we're having a problem with from Prospect."
Melanie called the situation "a community issue."
"I don't know what this borough received to let all these refugees to be brought into Prospect," she said, "but I tell you what: It is bringing down this side of Whitehall.
"(Prospect Park) is a disaster."
Councilman Glenn Nagy confirmed that Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh as well as other groups (such as Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh) have been bringing refugees to Whitehall for some time, but Nagy said that Whitehall receives no funding as a result of that.
"There was no quid pro quo," Nagy said. "Catholic Charities did that on their own, and they do it all over the country.
"It's been an ongoing problem, and to the extent that we're respectful of people's civil rights, we've tried to deal with it as best we can. But I don't know what the solution is."
For examples of how the situation has been a problem for Whitehall, Nagy pointed to multiple cases originating from the Prospect-area residences involving Whitehall police and firefighters trying to deal with "cultural differences" between them and residents, such as actions being illegal in the United States but not in those residents' home countries. Language barriers have been tough to break, too, Nagy said.
McKown said that Whitehall administration has been trying to acclimate refugees to life in Whitehall not just with police intervention but with "productive" measures, as well, such as the Whitehall Public Library's LEARN Bus program and literacy initiatives.
One suggestion brought up during Wednesday night's discussion was for the BWAA to convert the Prospect Park field into a soccer-only facility and to stick to other borough parks for baseball and softball. Snyder Park, on the other side of Route 51, could be an option.
"The fields over here are underutilized," Councilman Harold Berkoben said.
Council President William J. Veith suggested that Gary meet with members of the borough's Public Safety Committee—chaired by McKown—to look into possible solutions to this issue.
Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch on Thursday for more news from Wednesday's Whitehall Council meeting.
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