In recent years, there’s been little public discussion of homelessness at the many governmental meetings we cover.
That all changed this summer after Joe Neeb came to town as the new city manager. Some wondered if Mr. Neeb, another outsider brought in to head the city’s workforce, was capable of leading a city five times the size of his former employer, the city of Spearfish, South Dakota.
Shortly after coming on board in April, Mr. Neeb visited us at the Roswell Daily Record and outlined his vision for the city. Among his ambitious ideas was addressing homelessness in the city, particularly in the Berrendo creekbed, also known as the Wash.
For years, we have received telephone calls of homeless people sleeping in alleys near homes, doing worse things on their lawns, and of suspected drug and alcohol use. It was a problem without a solution, so it seemed, and no one had tried to solve it.
We give Mr. Neeb and others credit for trying. It took an outsider to see how bad the problem had become. The Wash is a mess after all these years, and an unhealthy place to live.
Neeb surprised, and has won over, some of his critics tackling this issue. For the past several months, city leaders and advocates for the homeless have grappled for a solution; two steps forward, one step back, it seems. But progress takes time, and it takes leadership.
We have heard from many of the same voices over and over again. To bring in some fresh perspectives, we began talking with the city’s homeless ourselves, and it’s been very interesting. During all the public discussions on homelessness in recent months, no one had told Elwood Harpaza’s story.
Mr. Harpaza has lived in the Wash for three years. He refers to himself as “bill-less” because he isn’t burdened with monthly bills. Mr. Harpaza isn’t interested in living in a fenced-in tent city, playing by other people’s rules about bedtime or anything else. He doesn’t want redemption, he just wants to be left alone, and he’s probably not alone in that regard among the city’s homeless population, four of which were issued citations by police last week after staying beyond a Nov. 17 deadline to vacate the Berrendo creekbed.
The solution to the city’s homeless problem may not involve the city and its bureaucracy at all. The Roswell Homeless Coalition’s latest proposal is to utilize two Rivers of Life buildings to house and care for the city’s homeless. All they need from the city is a zoning permit or two. It’s not surprising the charity and compassion of Roswell’s residents — rather than City Hall — may solve or at least improve Mr. Harpaza’s situation. All too often, we put our faith in government to resolve our problems, when the solutions are already within us.
On that note, we at the Daily Record want to do our small part this holiday season. Until Christmas, we are collecting tents, blankets, canned goods, bottled water and other items to distribute to the city’s homeless. If you would like to help, please drop something off at our office, and we’ll make sure it gets to the city’s homeless.