La Puente forum panel: Work together

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ALAMOSA — It will take the community working with La Puente to deal with the challenges the homeless shelter and its neighbors face, members of a panel stated during a public forum in Alamosa on Tuesday night.

The forum was part of HOPE (Homeless Outreach & Prevention Education) Week in Alamosa. The week will culminate with an open house at the shelter, 913 State Ave., Alamosa, at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1.

Panelists Tuesday night were: Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes; Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson; Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks; La Puente Staff Amanda Pearson; SLV Behavioral Health Group Staff Clarissa Woodworth; La Puente Board Member Don Kanen; and businessman and La Puente neighbor Jamie Dominguez.

“Together is the only way we are going to tackle any issues we have as far as the community goes,” Dominguez said, “because community is everybody.”

“By working together as a community … we can make our community that place that we all want to live in and raise our children in, a safe community,” Chief Oakes said.

Kanen said in the future he would like to see the community come together in forums similar to Tuesday’s forum to solve problems in a practical way. He said he appreciated Tuesday’s forum where people treated each other respectfully.

“You have to listen, and if you stop listening, that’s when there’s anger,” Brooks said.

Community questions
The panel answered several questions from the audience and moderators including: (questions are paraphrased and answers condensed for space constraints)

QUESTION: How can we meet the needs of those living off the grid?

Pearson said La Puente might help those living off the grid by providing firewood, for example, or helping them meet code requirements.

She said this was not the easiest group to work with and folks trying to go out and help them might be met with nails in the road. She said La Puente hired someone who has made inroads with that rural population and is able to help get food to them and provide information to them about medical and other care.

QUESTION: What are the positive/negative effects to community safety by the soup kitchen at La Puente serving meals to nonresidents, people who are not staying at the shelter?

Dominguez, who lives around the block from La Puente, said the suggestion had been made to move the soup kitchen, which might be an option. What is not an option, he said, is to stop feeding people.

He added that one way he helped the elderly in his neighborhood who had safety concerns was to install security cameras. He said he also pays attention to what is going on in the neighborhood.

Brooks said this is an emotional issue, and from the city’s perspective, “we very much value the role La Puente plays in helping individuals live and turn their lives around,” but the city also values the neighborhood around La Puente and has a responsibility to help keep them safe when they have security issues or their private property rights are affected.

Chief Oakes said community safety requires everyone, not just law enforcement.

“We are here to keep you safe, but we can’t do everything within our community.”

He said people could participate in the Neighborhood Watch program, for example.

QUESTION: Explain how marijuana legalization has affected the community and the influx of people to the San Luis Valley.

Sheriff Jackson said there has definitely been an impact to the county with social services, mental health services, law enforcement and other services being overwhelmed by people who came to Colorado thinking they were going to be able to grow marijuana and then found themselves without jobs and sometimes without shelter and had to seek services. He and Chief Oakes said if other states legalized marijuana, it would alleviate some of the burden on Colorado.

QUESTION: By serving outsiders is La Puente keeping people here?

Brooks said the reality is that the city and La Puente have limited resources.

“We only have so many resources, and we need to keep that in mind, and La Puente needs to keep that in mind,” she said.

“If we become a magnet … we need to start looking at that from a resources perspective.”

Attendee Joleen Trujillo, who lives in the same house she was raised in and knows all of her neighbors, said she remembered when La Puente started and has seen it grow beyond capacity.

“For me we need to look at infrastructure,” she said.

Pearson was uncomfortable with labeling people “outsiders,” especially if that determines who gets food and who doesn’t.

“La Puente is saying we are going to give people food,” she said.

She added that La Puente staff tell people there are not a lot of resources here, and if people who have come here have family and resources elsewhere, La Puente will buy a bus ticket for them to go there.

Kanen said from a Christian perspective, when Jesus was on earth and was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He told the story of the Good Samaritan.

“I can’t help but think that applies today,” he said, “just as much as it did 2,000 years ago, that our neighbor is the person who needs help, who needs us.”

QUESTION: Where do people go after the shelter?

Pearson said the shelter is a transitional place, and those who are not interested in working out a long-term plan are allowed to stay seven days, while those who are working with staff to get back on their feet and pursue long-term solutions can stay up to 30 days. Those who do not follow the rules are kicked out, she said, and La Puente does not monitor where everybody goes after they leave the shelter. The Adelante program provides a longer term housing program, she added. La Puente also has a program specific to veterans that allows them to stay two years at the shelter.

QUESTION: If you had a magic wand, what changes would you see in 10 years?

Woodworth: “I would create a community that in 10 years the judgment and the stigma around reaching out and getting help is not there.”

Kanen: “I would like to see us work together. I would love to see the shelter shut down because we don’t need it anymore … I would love to see meaningful employment that would sustain large numbers of people.”

Dominguez: “I think people need to realize how much power they do have.” He said if people do even small things, they can change the community. By doing something about the drug problem with people he knew, he has saved three lives.

Pearson: The San Luis Valley has a special dynamic with a diverse population, people who have been here a long time and people working together. “In 10 years I hope we don’t forget that, that we keep moving forward.”

Brooks: “I would like to see the type of partnership between La Puente and the community that is much more seamless and embracing of each other.”

Jackson: “I would like to see a massive drug treatment facility in this Valley.” There is no treatment facility here, and people have to wait a long time to get into one outside of the Valley, and some die before they get there.

Oakes: He said he would like to see everyone working together to address problems like crime and opioid addiction. “We need to work together as an entire community.”

Caption: Israel García, community education coordinator for La Puente Home, provides an introduction Tuesday night. He had grown up in the San Luis Valley and lived many other places before returning to work at La Puente. He described La Puente’s history and services which range from the homeless shelter that provided 10,621 nights of emergency shelter last year and 53,566 meals to the food bank network that served 11,600 unduplicated individuals last year. “What we do is a part of this community,” he said. “We create hope for those who need it most and provide folks with the stability to move on.” Panelists behind him are from left Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes, Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson and Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks.

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