ALAMOSA — In a community meeting Wednesday evening at La Puente’s outreach office, south side neighbors shared frustrations about the impact of La Puente’s shelter home in the neighborhood.
Neighborhood resident Joleen Trujillo set up the meeting to address some of the problems she had witnessed in the area.
“You have heard from us,” she told La Puente staff at the end of the meeting. “We don’t feel safe. It’s not a good place to be.”
She added, “At the next meeting I would like to see the board action oriented … We have to become action oriented.”
“We’re done,” said several residents who added that it was time for action, not further discussion. They shared with representatives from La Puente their concerns about personal and family safety, drug use, trash, crime, vagrancy and the influx of additional homeless persons seeking services that are already overburdened.
La Puente staff talked about their policies and programs, and Alamosa Police Department Captain Ken Anderson talked about how the police department could assist with neighborhood concerns. He encouraged residents to contact the police when they observe criminal or suspicious activity whether it is drug use or someone sleeping in public bathrooms in the park. He said the more information that could be provided, even videotapes of activities, the better.
La Puente staff also invited residents to a public forum scheduled during HOPE (Homeless Outreach & Prevention Education) Week in McDaniel Hall Room 104 on the Adams State University campus at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
One of the suggestions from the neighborhood Wednesday night was that La Puente relocate its “soup kitchen” to one of the other properties La Puente owns or an area in the city or county that is not as populated so there would be less traffic at the shelter home on State Avenue, which currently serves breakfast to those staying at the shelter and lunch and dinner to shelter guests as well as others who might just come for meal times. Some folks who are not allowed in the shelter for various reasons can still get meals to go “over the fence.”
Residents said some of the people who are just eating but not staying at the shelter go out in the neighborhood to party in between meals and are sleeping in tents or cars in the area.
La Puente staff members present on Wednesday — Judy McNielsmith, Israel Garcia and Amy Scavezze — were not in a position to promise that solution but said they would take it back to staff, administrators and board members for consideration.
Southside resident Michael Carson, who is running for the council seat in Ward 4, said he believed La Puente itself was working fine, but many of the problems surrounding it would be solved if the soup kitchen was moved out of the shelter. He added he had not ill will to La Puente itself, but “it can’t continue to go on this way.”
The group talked about Neighborhood Watch, which the Alamosa Police Department is willing to work with the residents on. However, not enough people have volunteered to be block captains. Scott White, who has led efforts to clean up the south side, said he had been trying for two years to get people to participate in Neighborhood Watch.
“We keep asking for block captains,” he said, “but nobody wants to take responsibility.”
Those attending the Wednesday gathering also suggested that La Puente place a cap on the number of people who could be served because they were concerned the shelter and the broader community did not have adequate resources to serve an indefinite number of people.
“Do you prefer we turn them away?” Garcia asked.
“If you can’t serve them, absolutely,” one resident responded. “We are all affected by this population.” This includes the school districts and Adams State, she said.
Scavezze said if someone showed up with nowhere to live and nothing to eat, La Puente would serve them because that is its mission to provide shelter and food for those in need.
Another suggestion was to limit the time people are allowed to stay at the shelter. Currently it is 30 days. Some residents said when La Puente was first set up, they believed it only allowed folks to stay a week or 10 days, as an emergency stop.
McNielsmith said the 30-day time period gives staff time to help La Puente clients develop more of a long-term plan of what they will do when they leave the shelter.
Another suggestion from the group was to go to the city council and see if ordinances could be passed to address problems such as vagrancy and people spending the night in their cars or public places such as park bathrooms.
Residents also suggested more data be collected regarding the extent and recipients of services. McNielsmith said La Puente does collect information on those who stay at the shelter.
Attendees suggested that clients be screened more carefully.
Another suggestion was for folks to be deputized to deal with thefts at local stores so law enforcement could concentrate on patrolling areas such as the south side. Captain Anderson said civilians could not issue summons.
Another suggestion was to videotape/record in some way more of the suspicious activities and provide that to the police.
Another idea was to require those receiving meals at the shelter to perform some work in exchange, like cleaning up local parking lots.
Residents also suggested that La Puente staff and volunteers talk to clients about how to be good neighbors and respectful to others in the neighborhood. McNielsmith said La Puente is doing that now.
Another suggestion was for La Puente to physically help its neighbors. For example, if a neighbor was concerned about people walking through the yard but could not afford a fence, perhaps La Puente could help put up a fence.
Scavezze said that is something La Puente does and can do, investing manpower and hours in projects like building fences. She said work groups coming in from other parts of the country on mission trips or spring break trips often bring money for the projects they are working on, so they could help with projects like those suggested Wednesday night.
Some residents said that type of promise had been made before but not followed through.
Residents also encouraged each other to be observant and do their part in monitoring their neighborhoods.
Garcia invited further input and discussions. “This is a community wide problem. We can’t solve this on our own,” he said.
Some of the concerns shared on Wednesday included
• Guests of the shelter home, or at least folks who were using some its services, were harassing area business owners, sometimes to the point where the business owners were concerned for their own or family members’ safety.
• Business owners also shared concerns about vandalism, thefts, trash and vagrancy. They talked about having to clean up vomit and human waste.
• Neighborhood residents also shared concerns similar to the business owners — of specific La Puente guests who harassed them, one to the point where she had to obtain a permanent restraining order (La Puente staff said that particular person was banned from the shelter.)
• Elderly residents who used to enjoy time on their front porches no longer feel safe enough to go outside. Residents were concerned about the safety of elderly residents inside their homes as well.
• Neighborhood residents said they were also concerned about people coming into their yards, alley ways and empty buildings and using drugs, having parties and leaving trash ranging from needles to human waste.
• They were also concerned about people sleeping in cars, alleyways, public restrooms and empty buildings. Sometimes people were putting up tents right behind residents’ houses, they explained. One resident said he saw people sleeping in the bathroom at Cole Park, and if tourists to the community also encountered something like that, they would not come back here to visit.
• Residents talked about break-ins, thefts, threats and altercations.
• People do not feel safe in their own homes or businesses. Residents said people do not feel safe at the shelter itself, either, or going down the street by the shelter.
“It’s gotten nothing but worse and worse,” another said. “We can’t sit on our front steps or porch for being afraid.”
• Residents said they believed La Puente and Alamosa were being advertised locally (such as in the courts with a flyer or pamphlet handed to defendants) and outside the area, such as bus stops in Denver, as a place to come for services.
“I have had four students tell me they came on a bus to get here. They are here for the weed,” said one attendee at the meeting.
“They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t getting services from La Puente,” another resident said.
Judy McNielsmith and other staff said La Puente is not bringing in people from outside the area or encouraging folks to come to the San Luis Valley and in fact tells people who call that there are not enough jobs or housing here. They asked to see the flyers or signs that advertise La Puente and Alamosa as a destination for services.
McNielsmith said the influx of homeless persons was not just happening here in the San Luis Valley but in many other parts of the state.
• The influx of homeless and others who are getting on public assistance programs is literally taxing the local working population.
“We get a lot of people coming in that get put on every welfare program they can qualify for,” one resident said. “Taxpayers fund this. As the influx comes in, we just spend more and more taxpayers’ dollars supporting people that are living in our alleys and behind our homes and in our sheds.”
• Law enforcement is having a hard time keeping up with the problems associated with drug use, thefts, harassment and other problems. Captain Anderson said the problems residents were concerned about in the neighborhood around La Puente were also throughout the city.
He said he has concerns in his neighborhood as well and has had vandalism to his property.
• A landlord said she and her husband lost quite a bit of money when they had to evict a tenant who had been given first month’s rent through La Puente but did not have money to pay subsequent months’ rent and knew his rights so forced the eviction process. She said she believed this was a problem with other rental properties where folks receiving assistance from La Puente had stiffed the landlords.
“That should be embarrassing for you that people don’t even want to be connected to you because of being ripped off,” she said.
McNielsmith said La Puente does not just give first month’s rent to people without them having a plan for how they will pay for subsequent months.
• Attendees said La Puente’s mission and its reputation had deteriorated in the neighborhood and the community, and they wondered if donors would continue providing the same level of support for the organization if they knew what was going on. Some said La Puente is enabling people and providing services such as meals to people who do not need them.
One asked what would happen if people stopped donating to La Puente.
“You would have people dying in the street,” McNielsmith said. “We have had it.”