Vietnam Veterans Memorial becoming a homeless gathering spot

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's intended to be Kansas City's expression of gratitude to its veterans.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial sits just behind Country Club Plaza, and lately, it's become a popular hangout for the homeless.

The memorial was built in 1985 as a way to express the city's gratitude toward its veterans. Within the past year, it's become a popular place for homeless people to gather, and the memorial itself seems to be paying the cost.

Cell phone photos taken last week by a viewer show the park in disarray with trash and discarded clothes strewn everywhere. One photo even showed a puddle of vomit on the pavement, not far from the memorial wall itself.

"We have some issues there with people sleeping in the park and using the fountain for cleaning and washing, " Forrest Decker, Superintendent of Kansas City Parks and Recreation, said.

Decker manages over 12,000 acres of park-space throughout the city, and he sees the Vietnam Vets Memorial and surrounding one-acre park as being special.

"This park is a special one honoring those who have served in the Vietnam War," Decker said. "We do go by there daily, and put a little special emphasis on it."

Decker said his biggest concern is the mess that transient people leave behind. His department doesn't see added expenses due to cleanup, but people trying to enjoy the park deal with the trash.

"This is where I live. This is where i come every night and relax and go to sleep," Dennis Theismann said.

When Decker's staff makes its daily run to the memorial, Theismann is one of the regulars who greet them. Theismann said he raised four children in a home in Overland Park, but mental illness cost him his job and his family.

Now, this park is his home. He said he's surprised by the mess other homeless people leave behind, some of whom are veterans.

"People just leave it," Theismann said. "I don't know why. They just do. I don't. I pick up after myself."

Decker said back in July, police had to be used to remove a group of homeless people living here in tents, which is against the law. Decker said it's a priority for his department to keep all of Kansas City's 220 parks safe and clean for everyone.

We reached out to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has its national office in Kansas City. A representative from that group was unable to meet with us before our deadline.

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