An allegation that Centennial Plaza Park is a spray park by day — “bum bath” by night — does not hold water.
The city shuts off and drains the water at 6 p.m. each night.
Recently a Kijiji message warned of “filthy homeless” washing themselves and their clothes in the water at the Alexander Way park and using it for a toilet.
In the message, that spread quickly but has since been removed from online sites, a mother said her friend saw a lot of activity there one night at about 8 or 9 p.m.
After visiting the park with her son and both of them becoming ill, the mother worried it was due to contaminated water.
She said a city worker told her the water is not drained.
But Sarah Cockerill, the city’s director of community services, said the spray fountain and wading pool is in fact drained daily.
“We clean it and we drain it every day. We refill the system around 11 a.m. and noon and we drain it every night at 6 p.m.,” Cockerill said on Wednesday.
She said treated tap water recirculates for the six hours and the site is Alberta Health Services approved.
“We are very diligent to make sure that it’s safe.”
She said city staff did contact the complainant to explain how the spray park is maintained.
As for the vulnerable and homeless population in Red Deer, she said the city and community agencies are working to end homelessness and connect people with local services.
“(There) are some that choose to use our services that are available in the community, and some that choose not to,” Cockerill said.
When it comes to hygiene, showers and laundry equipment are available at Safe Harbour Society. People can also access showers at the Rec Centre for a nominal fee.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, said CAANS’ mobile outreach program NightReach does visit the spray park area once or twice a night.
“We would have heard if this was a bath tub or laundromat. That hasn’t been our experience,” Vanderschaeghe said.
And it would be highly unusual for homeless people to do their wash in a pool during the day with children and parents on site, she said.
“When parents are at a splash park they are aware and vigilant about the other adults that are there. It would be a bad safety choice for homeless people to walk into that fray. The moms and dads would not put up with that,” Vanderschaeghe said.
Red Deer Downtown Business Association also has the Community Clean Team on streets to keep the downtown clean and does check on the spray park.
Executive director Amanda Gould said her association has never received a complaint from spray park users or about problems with people hanging out there at night.
She said the city’s homeless does tend to concentrate downtown which has been an issue for some businesses over the years.
Most recently, homeless activity has increased over the last two weeks, but Gould didn’t know why.
“Between the City of Red Deer and the Community Clean Team and our service and support partners, we’re all very diligent to make sure our public spaces are clean for the use of the public. I think there is hard work going on all over the city that make sure green spaces are something for residents to enjoy,” Cockerill said.
Juanita Otto, who was at Centennial Plaza Park on Wednesday with her children, said they visited regularly this summer and the only place she sees people hanging out is by the nearby McDonald’s.
And the spray park has been empty when she has driven by at night.
“I have never seen anything. Something like that would stand out for me,” Otto said.
Blue Grass Sod Farms Central Spray & Play, the city’s newest spray park at the corner of Rotary Recreation Park, shut down for mechanical repairs on Monday and was expected to reopen on Friday.