Gutierrez Park a hot spot for crime

BY Bill Reagan

Gutierrez Park is in the heart of Harlingen. How we use it says a lot about Harlingen’s heart. Just last week the Harlingen Police Department carried out a major prostitution sting at the park. Fifteen men were arrested for soliciting sex from undercover police officers.

And just last week Loaves & Fishes celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary at the park.

When I pastored one of our local churches we held a number of church events in Gutierrez Park. There was great reluctance on the part of many church members about going to the park. Many homeless people can be found there and it is sometimes a hot spot for criminal activity.

The City of Harlingen has taken steps to redeem the park. There have been a number of upgrades, including new lighting, benches and landscaping. Recently, the downtown district has expanded to include La Placita, the area around the park. Lt. George Gutierrez was one of Harlingen’s great heroes, having sacrificed his life for our nation in the Vietnam War. The park that bears his name should be a place that reflects the best that Harlingen has to offer.

Harlingen is in the midst of economic expansion. We have new restaurants and national retailers. A new convention center and hotel are coming soon. These are great things for our community. However, our quality of life does not depend only on the expansion of name brand, national restaurant chains and retail businesses. Our quality of life also depends on what we do with our city’s history, our service to the poor, and our city’s core.

I was proud to see the many friends and supporters of Loaves & Fishes mingle with our homeless population at our Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration. Gutierrez Park is where churches should be reaching out to the community, where businesses should be giving back and where our community celebrates — not just our past — but our future as well.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.