A meeting has been scheduled to advise business owners along North High Street in the vicinity of Clintonville Portal Park on how best to handle panhandlers, vagrants and homeless people who sometimes congregate there.

A meeting has been scheduled to advise business owners along North High Street in the vicinity of Clintonville Portal Park on how best to handle panhandlers, vagrants and homeless people who sometimes congregate there.

The information session is set for Thursday, March 3, at 3 p.m. in the Charity Newsies building, 4300 Indianola Ave.

The gathering grew out of an ongoing series of meetings that have been held between Columbus Recreation and Parks officials with representatives of the Clintonville and University area commissions over perceived problems relating to the .15-acre facility.

City officials stepped in early in 2010 to settle a growing dispute between the two area commissions relating to Portal Park, which was paid for and created under the auspices of the Clintonville panel, hence the formal name, but which is actually located within the boundaries of the University District.

Homeless people snoozing on benches, giving the facility an unsavory air, and aggressive panhandlers causing potential customers to stay away from businesses in the area became a major concern for a member of the University Area Commission who, in September 2009, proposed removing the benches and taking other steps to force the homeless, who have a camp in a nearby ravine, to spend time elsewhere.

The March 3 meeting, according to CAC District 3 representative James R. Blazer II, is intended to dispel myths and educate the business owners near Clintonville Portal Park regarding the homeless people who spend time there. Some of them have drug and alcohol and mental health issues, and need to be gotten into programs.

"What to do and what not to do, what encourages them and discourages them" will be the focus of the meeting Blazer said last week.

"This particular situation is to help the businesses to understand what enables them," he added. "If you give them $5 to get off your front step, that's not helping to get those people off your front step; they'll come back again."

Various city officials as well as representatives of social service programs aimed at getting homeless people off the street will be on hand at the meeting, according to Blazer.

"We have more vagrants down there in the park than we have homeless," he said. "There are people down there who are making it a lifestyle as opposed to a transition from being down on their luck, whereas these people who are down there have been down there for many years."

In either case, the commission member said that the goal should be to get these people help so that they can get off the street.

Meanwhile, as the city-arbitrated park redesign meetings continue, the issue has come up of possibly renaming the tiny facility.

Clintonville Area Commission chairman John DeFourny mentioned the potential at the February monthly meeting, and said the issue came up in light of the chance of the park undergoing some reconfiguration.

Clintonville residents need to be aware the possibility is under discussion, DeFourny said.

"We're not considering any name change, but the working group is," he added. "This gives the commissioners time to go out to their districts (and find out) is this an issue."

"I really don't have an opinion one way or the other," Blazer said of the renaming issue, adding that working group members have kicked around the possibility of rechristening the park to honor some of those who were instrumental in its construction.

At the Feb. 3 CAC meeting, District 1 representative Mike McLaughlin commented that what was initially a controversial subject between the area commissions has instead developed into a collaborative process.

"In the end, we all win," he said.

"I think the days where it's contentious between the two area commissions are over," Blazer said. "We've been able to work through the issues of what the park is, what it's doing, what it's not doing, what people think it should be doing. It's a multilayered issue."

Redesigning the park, while still giving volunteers, most of them from Clintonville, who have devoted hours to maintaining plantings at the facility a chance to continue their efforts, will take many more meetings, the District 3 CAC representative said. "It's a process that hopefully in the next few months we'll have some things available for people to see," Blazer said.