City Council Chambers was overflowing with Española residents and other concerned public who were in attendance of the Nov. 2 Public Safety Committee meeting.
There were the public who condemned the homeless and drug-addicts in the city and there were those who defended them and insisted they needed better resources. At the end of the public comments portion of the meeting, everyone seemed in agreement that the residents of Española needed help.
“What’s most important to me - not the Santa Clara apartments, not pushing out the homeless or the panhandlers - what’s important to me is to be able to go home and feel safe in my house,” Españolan Cynthia Lentini said. “What’s important to me is to be able to speak to my neighbors and to know that they feel safe. What’s important to me is that we aren’t policing our very own streets because the fact of the matter is: when a citizen speaks up here, they’re likely to be shot.”
Lentini’s comments were met with loud applause, as were most of the speakers, and she wasn’t the only one concerned with the violence in the city. Several people of the homeless population attended the meeting to express distress at how they are treated.
“A result of me being homeless recently was that I got jumped at the store ... for what? Being homeless, being judged for what? They said I was a junkie, that I was gay. I’m not none of these,” Españolan Dennis Samby said.
Samby recently became homeless with his wife after struggling for a while. He said he hopes people listen to the account he relayed because he’s not the only homeless person with this experience.
Throughout the evening, several speakers discussed feeling frustrated with the crime rates and the drug issues in the city. Some suggested neighborhood watch groups, many agreeing that the community can and should work together to help increase safety.
The homeless attendees agreed that there are drug and trash issues causing danger, but asked the rest of the public not to treat all homeless people like they are all a problem.
“We’re not all the same. We want help. There are those of us who want help. Not all of us are criminals,” Amanda Herrera of Española said. “I’ve been fighting addiction for seventeen years. I have two kids that I don’t see very much. If we could get this place together it would help a lot because ... it’s hard to think about recovery when we don’t have somewhere to go. We don’t have somewhere to live. We don’t know where we’re going to eat next.”
Herrera moved to New Mexico when she was seven years old and has been homeless in Española for the past seven years.
“We still are people. I’m somebody’s daughter. I’m somebody’s sister. I’m somebody’s mother. And I hate being treated like we’re nothing, like I’m not a person anymore. I am. We all are. There’s so many of us out there that want to change, that want help, and there’s nothing here for us,” Herrera said.
Ephraim Hernandez of Española shared that he once was homeless and now tries to help out anyone he can. He brought the homeless attendees to the meeting and expressed that there is a homeless crisis going on in the city. With the upcoming drastic weather changes, he believes the homeless need help now more than ever,
“This issue is more an issue of human dignity than anything else. And I propose that it’s time that we rally the community in a positive way and address this crisis with love, respect and urgency,” Hernandez said. “Most every human knows that we bring our own problems on ourselves. And that understanding is not lost on each and every homeless individual present here tonight. We cannot give up on each other any more than we can give up on ourselves.
Española Mayor Pro Tem Peggy Sue Martinez shared tears for their stories, and said she believes the problem to be the drug-addicts and catch and release system, which she added that the Española City Council believes should be repealed.
“Before, when Delancey Street first started, there was a waiting list of up to a year and a half to get into that program ... they had over 100 clients in that rehab center. Now they only have 22 clients in that rehab center with no waiting list,” Martinez said. “That shows you that nobody is seeking help at this time because they are not forced to. They’re caught and released, caught and released.”
Some other speakers agreed with her, condemning the catch and release system. Others questioned what the Española Police Department is doing about all the catalytic convertors being stolen.
When asked to address this situation, Española Police Department Chief Mizel Garcia attributed the problems to lack of employees. He suggested residents volunteer and help at the police station.