Oakland's Willow Park, once a playground for children, now overrun by drug deals and sewage backups

At one time Willow Park in West Oakland was filled with children, but these days, the swings sit still and the play structure is long gone.

It is not children who come here anymore, but adults.

One young boy says he's even afraid to walk by the park, much less play there.

"I feel kind of frightened when I walk by. I try to look to see if anything is going to happen, bad," said 11-year-old Amari Aitchison.

His mother said she's frustrated. Her family lives just a block away but won't let her kids use the park.
"It's overwhelmed with drugs. People sleeping in the park, drug selling. It's very dirty and unsanitary. And it is downright scary for my children to come here," said Jimisha Baker.

Perhaps the worst part she says are the public bathrooms. There are frequently chairs that are placed inside, presumably to make it easier to do drugs.

Raw sewage often backs up. 

Neighbors have taken it upon themselves to regularly clean the park. But it doesn't take long for it to fill with trash.

"Sometimes they've been threatened by the people in park, so it is not necessarily safe for them either. And they're trying to make the park a better place," said Baker. 

"Here's one of our humanitarian challenges with making sure we create spaces where unhoused residents can be, so they are not occupying and using spaces intended for all of us to use," said Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney, whose district includes the park.

McElhaney said the city would send crews to clean up the park next week, and outreach workers to help find alternatives for the homeless.

"We have to begin to enforce, and with the new adopted budget we have some resources, to enforce that the parks have to be open and safe for everyone," she said. 

McElhaney said she wants the park to be suitable again for families in a few months. But some are skeptical.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said Baker.