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Las Cruces has resources to address homelessness and addiction

Peter Goodman


Recently, I visited a Hispanic-owned small business. Insults were scrawled on the wall with human excrement. Police still hadn’t showed.

The owner, Carlos, was standing by the wall and an overturned garbage can. He’s a gentle guy, not looking for trouble. Two homeless drug addicts frequently spend the night at this business. They leave behind needles and other trash, and also urine and feces.

I sympathize with them. I’ve had homeless friends, and friends addicted to drugs. Too, homeless folks often do no damage.

Our city sympathizes. The city supports Community of Hope, regularly waives bus fares, and its municipal court tries not to let the Detention Center become a modern debtors prison. Carlos sympathizes. He sometimes buys homeless people meals at a nearby restaurant.

I sympathize with Carlos, too.

Homelessness and addiction are societal problems. Our system results in some number of homeless people and addicts. It’s mostly not any one person’s their fault; nor is it Carlos’s fault.

Fairness demands we all help deal with this problem, directly or indirectly. Social justice and a pragmatic desire for community peace demand the same. We shouldn’t jail folks for poverty or being disorganized, and legally we can’t jail them for mental incompetence; but battery, threats, and vandalism should have consequences.

There’s a cost to treating everyone with respect and care. Carlos and other small business folk pay that cost in ways most of us prefer not to imagine. He’s no slumlord cheating poor tenants; he doesn’t run a sweatshop; nor is he some huge corporation destroying people’s financial and physical health, then tossing ‘em on the slag heap.

He’s just someone working his butt off to get by and take care of his customers. Why must he spend part of his morning cleaning up urine and feces, and disposing of needles and empty food containers? Why must he be vandalized for asking folks not to sleep at his business? After calling the police, why must he wait and wait and wait?

What ever our political views, tolerance levels, and faith, consider that someone less decent might have kicked these folks into next week by now.Sounds terrible, but I can understand how it might be tempting under certain circumstances.

Carlos’s uninvited guests show up towards midnight. A special detail could patrol nightly. It would include a police officer or two and a social worker, or at least someone savvy about social services. The detail would focus on problem areas. Before removing folks from private property, the detail could try to engage the trespassers about their situation and what alternatives might be available. Police could then evict trespassers, and either drive them somewhere better, arrest them for a crime, or warn them that returning to the premises will get them arrested. To minimize retaliation, the detail would explain they’re a city patrol, not called by the property owner.

I don’t mean to suggest that this is in any way easy. It’s not the city’s fault, but we need to do something, and the city has the necessary resources. (I’m encouraged that the Community of Hope and the LCFD are implementing services and programs that may help; but I worry about Carlos and others in the meantime.) We need to work together, without letting our differences distract us.

Maybe my idea won’t fly; but let’s figure out what does, and make it happen. Soon.