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Homelessness a concern for Ivywild residents

October 23, 2017 Updated: October 24, 2017 at 6:15 am
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Looking north along south Nevada Avenue from Southgate Road Wednesday, October 7, 2015. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

A standing room-only crowd of more than 100 people voiced concerns Monday evening about an apparent rise in crime, trash and human feces tied to homelessness across the Ivywild and South Nevada Avenue neighborhoods.

The panel discussion was planned by Ryan Jones, 29, a two-year Ivywild resident who said he fears the rise in homelessness and vagrancy there could imperil the South Nevada Avenue's revitalization.

Jones listed break-ins at an area laundromat, panhandlers frequenting a nearby ATM, trash and shopping carts littering front lawns and other crimes that have left his neighbors feeling unsafe.

"Let me be clear: This meeting is not anti-homeless," Jones told the crowd. "We're not going to solve the issues of homelessness in one night. This is a great neighborhood. I want to see it continue to grow."

The City Council designated the South Nevada Avenue corridor an Urban Renewal Area in late 2015, leading several 1950s-era buildings and motels to be demolished in favor of new retail establishments.

Dan Robinson said he recently found a person camped on his business, Spencer's Produce, Lawn & Garden Centers, 1430 S. Tejon St., along with trash and human feces. He said the problem illustrates the issues many face in this area.

"Who's looking after our rights?" asked Alice Robinson, his wife.

City Council President Richard Skorman empathized with residents, calling for more officers on the police Homeless Outreach Team.

"It's a big community problem," Skorman said. "And the hard part for me: You're getting the brunt of it."

Police said staffing levels and court rulings often have left their hands tied.

An agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union and a federal court ruling outlining a "right to rest" limit officers' abilities to write tickets for camping on most city land, except designated parks.

The department's homeless team can only write tickets if a person has been previously warned. Even then, a homeless person must refuse an open shelter bed before being ticketed for illegal camping.

But hardly any shelter beds are available, despite a new facility on Springs Rescue Mission's nearby campus, off Las Vegas Street west of Tejon Street. Lt. Mike Lux, who oversees the Homeless Outreach Team, owed that to a wave of newcomers to Colorado experiencing homelessness.

Monday evening, Lux said, only one shelter bed was available. Beds also were hard to come by all summer.

"I was absolutely amazed," said Lux, about the lack of shelter space. "Single digits (beds), and it isn't even cold yet.

"There's not enough resources to sustain the numbers of people we are seeing."

Homeless advocates said they are working to help people find shelter or housing. For example, a coalition of nonprofits called the Continuum of Care uses several million dollars in federal grants each year to address the issue.

But the challenges are immense. The city's dearth of affordable housing and skyrocketing rents have made helping people off the streets - even with federal vouchers - a monumental task, said Beth Roalstad, who leads the Continuum.

She called on people at Monday's meeting to help those nonprofits get people into apartments.

"I just ask you to be compassionate and empathetic," Roalstad said. "This is a crisis, and winter is coming."

Maria Jones, the wife of meeting organizer Ryan Jones, asked why people experiencing homelessness couldn't be moved to an area that's more affordable.

"Kansas is very cheap," she said.

Roalstad shot back. "This is their home. Do you want to suggest they move away?"

After the meeting, Debbie Nejtek, who lives near the Ivywild School, shared many of her neighbors' concerns. But she shook her head at the suggestion of moving homeless people elsewhere.

Rather, she said, she hoped Monday's meeting would serve as a starting point for making progress on the complex task of helping people off the streets.

"I'd like to see just coexistence," Nejtek said. "If you can help them, you can help all of us."

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