West downtown property owners say their businesses will continue to suffer from transients as long as facilities that cater to the city's homeless population are located near a state liquor store.
"If it is being contained, we're tired of being the container. If it is a disease, then that liquor store is the primary source of infection," said Richard Muir, who represents E.O. Muir Associates and Growers' Market Co.But officials from the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control department say little of the business of the liquor store at 205 W. Fourth South consists of sales of cheaper, fortified wines. The state has another seven years on its lease of the present building.
Dennis Kellen, operations manager for the department, said moving the store would not solve the transient problem. "I wish I had a magic answer. I don't."
Mayor Palmer DePaulis called the Wednesday night meeting to discuss the area's transient problems. The city has already increased street lighting and cleanup efforts in the west downtown area and strengthened police patrols.
"You're on the front line of what is about to overrun, in my feeling, the entire downtown. We want to solve the problem at your doorstep," the mayor said.
The mayor said he is committed to implementing a comprehensive plan to mitigate problems in the area before the city's renovated homeless shelter at 210 S. Rio Grande opens in November. He asked property owners to meet again in three weeks to continue to discuss action that would help their businesses, while maintaining the dignity of the homeless population.
Peter Henderson, who owns the Rio Grande Cafe, said problems have accelerated since the site for the shelter was selected near the new St. Vincent DePaul soup kitchen. "In the future, we see nothing but a higher head count as far as the transient population is concerned."
Now other facilities to serve the transient population are also concentrating in the area. The concentration of facilities in the area has effectively condemned it for other uses, Henderson said. Henderson and other property owners say the transients that roam the area threaten employees and customers, causing their property to lose its value.
But Stephen Holbrook, director of the homeless shelter committee, said moving the facilities or banning sale of cheap wines won't solve the problem.
Holbrook said the liquor store and the shelters are not the problem in and of themselves.
According to a recent survey of the city's homeless population, only 40 percent actually stay in shelters, and only 32 percent have a drinking problem. The study also showed that 38 percent of the transients themselves have been robbed or physically abused within the last year, Holbrook said.
He said the transient problem is a complex one that needs solutions from all levels of government agencies.
George Tantillo, of Volunteers of America, said the agency's alcohol detoxification center is at more than 100 percent of capacity. "A bed doesn't get cold. When a person leaves, another one takes his place."
He said the community needs more facilities, including a larger detoxification facility and more residential programs so poor alcoholics can receive aid. People who suffer from heart disease or cancer aren't put in jail. And those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism also deserve treatment, Tantillo said.