City staff recommend removal of huts at St. Benedict’s

Courier photo by John Waters Alamosa City Council to consider removing huts at St. Benedict Encampment.

Council to decide Wednesday night

ALAMOSA — Staff with the City of Alamosa are recommending to the city council that all 12 huts remaining at the St. Benedict camp for the unsheltered be removed with a decision slated to be made during Wednesday night’s meeting.

The recommendation is based on data that has been collected and a summary of the situation submitted by people with first-hand knowledge of the situation, including La Puente Street Outreach plus Alamosa Police Department (APD) co-responders and Community Service Officers (CSO).

A point clarified upfront is that staff recommendation is strictly limited to the huts located at St. Benedict. The encampment, itself, continues to meet the need it was created to address: providing the legal authority for the City of Alamosa to enforce a prohibition on camping in public places by providing an alternative place in St. Benedict Encampment.

For a little background, through a combination of grants, 15 huts — described as “similar to a shed” — were built in 2021 at St. Benedict Encampment, a temporary living space in Alamosa for people who are unsheltered. The intention was to provide stability, increased safety and more engagement opportunities with providers to support people moving one step closer to housing. It was never intended to provide permanent housing but, instead, to be a steppingstone to something better.

However, as the summary provided to the council states, “The exact opposite has been true.” The summary prepared by La Puente Street Outreach and confirmed by APD co-responders and CSO paints a dismal picture of how far the huts fell short of what was intended.

According to the La Puente Street Outreach summary, the people who have been living in the huts for the longest period have proven to engage less with case management and have had worse housing outcomes when compared with the general population of people who are homeless.

Specifically, 36 different individuals have been occupying the huts since they were built in 2021. Of those 36 people, only eight individuals have obtained stable, long-term housing in two years. Two of the people who moved into the huts when they were first constructed in 2021 are still there and engage little with any of the programming.

In comparison, according to La Puente, “In the 2023 calendar year, the number of unique unsheltered individuals [i.e. not living in huts] who obtained long-term, stable housing data was nearly double the rate of [those living in] the huts in less than half the timeframe.”

A further note suggests that, for some people, the huts were preferable to the shelter, again, contrary to what was intended.

The summary also highlighted another significant challenge in that “it is nearly impossible to regulate who is and is not in the huts.”

It is protocol for the individuals who are most vulnerable to be given preference when determining who will be allowed to live in a hut. But after those individuals most at risk of being victimized move in, there is nothing that stops them from being “strong-armed” out of their hut and if, for whatever reason, they do not report being displaced, there is nothing La Puente or anyone else can do. Consequently, the majority of the huts have been/are being “taken” by people who did not go through the process required for selection.

The huts are also widely known to be places where “both residents of St. Benedict and those not staying there can come to purchase drugs.”

Although the plan was for each hut to be secure, that is no longer the case as nearly all the handles have been removed and replaced or thrown out altogether within the first few days after they are changed, largely due to occupants losing their keys or the key being stolen. The huts are also routinely vandalized, burglarized and destroyed.

Furthermore, heating the huts during the winter may pose a more serious risk than living in a tent because of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning or complications with propane heaters leading to structure fires.

Finally, the summary brings up concerns related to hygiene and potential hazards as, being an enclosed structure, there is susceptibility to “drug residue, rotting food, dead animals, urine and feces (both human and animal) plus rodent and/or bug infestation, etc.”

The fiscal impact of removing the huts is estimated to range from $2,400 to $3,600 and will require about a week for a crew to complete the job.

With that information to review, the city council is presented with three options for Wednesday night’s meeting.

The first is to follow staff recommendations and authorize removal of the 12 remaining huts, authorize removal of only those huts that present safety concerns or ignore staff recommendations and deny authorization to remove any of the 12 huts.

Alamosa City Council meets at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers at 300 Hunt Ave. on the first and third Wednesday of the month. Those who wish to attend remotely can do so via Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85753492744 or by calling 1-719-359-4580, Webinar ID: 857 5349 2744.


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