Businesses frustrated by incidents near homeless center

Near Giving Heart services site, businesses on Broadway struggle with occasional issues

Posted 3/19/18

A normal business day gave way to a violent assault for Kellie Martinez at Broadway Barbers, a shop just doors down from Giving Heart Englewood, a homeless-services center on the 4300 block of South …

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Businesses frustrated by incidents near homeless center

Near Giving Heart services site, businesses on Broadway struggle with occasional issues

Posted

A normal business day gave way to a violent assault for Kellie Martinez at Broadway Barbers, a shop just doors down from Giving Heart Englewood, a homeless-services center on the 4300 block of South Broadway, according to a report by police.

When Martinez asked two attendees of Giving Heart to stop standing near her barbershop's front door and blocking access, one of them allegedly became angry and struck her. Several employees and patrons of Giving Heart tried to end the disturbance, according to a witness. The two individuals left before police arrived, but police identified them after contacting employees at the homeless center, who told police the individuals caused problems recently and were no longer welcome.

That's how the Jan. 16 incident unraveled, according to a summary by Englewood police provided to the Englewood City Council that month. Business owners on the block have brought complaints to police and the city about incidents ranging from sleeping near businesses to altercations outside front doors.

Donna Zimmerman, director at Giving Heart, said her center takes steps to reduce issues and has a relationship with the Englewood police and and service providers in the Englewood area that share resources to address homelessness generally. But Englewood needs more collaboration across groups to effectively address the widespread problem, Zimmerman said.

Englewood police assigned a team to observe the block on South Broadway, and the city is more broadly working with organizations that engage with homelessness — including Giving Heart — but grievances among business owners have continued.

One, in particular, is looking to move his business soon.

“At this point, if you're just now addressing my problems, it's too late,” said Mike Lindgren, owner of Gekko Vapes on the block.

Lindgren's shop moved to the location in January 2016 from about three blocks north on South Broadway, and he saw his customer base decline by about half around the time he moved.

It never caught back up, he said.

“I don't hate the homeless — at all,” said Lindgren, who used to let homeless individuals warm up in his shop. “In fact, I was looking forward to moving in here. I do have issues with (Giving Heart) and how they operate.”

Martinez, the business owner who said she was hit on the head several times during the assault, said she has seen people loiter in front of her shop and “go to the bathroom” in the driveway. Lindgren has seen people with bats and knives in the area near his shop and Giving Heart. Liquor bottles, cigarette butts, needles, yelling and aggressive interactions — along with a person using a cigarette ashtray as a toilet — have all made appearances, said Lindgren, who said that after around two years of Giving Heart running at that location, people should know what's coming and address the issues.

“I need my customers and employees and yes, even me, to feel safe,” Lindgren said, “and right now, no one does.”

At-large City Councilmember Rita Russell — now mayor pro tem — met with business owners in the area around the middle of 2017 to talk about their concerns. She recently requested the details from Englewood police on Martinez's assault because “business owners had concerns that were not being addressed,” Russell said.

Several business owners in the area who share concerns with each other had brought issues to Russell's attention, but since that meeting, “I haven't really seen a whole lot of action,” Lindgren said.

Since Jan. 1, there have been three calls for service that resulted in police reports written involving Giving Heart or someone associated with it, said Scot Allen, Englewood police spokesman. One was for urinating in public, and one was for menacing.

“Those things happen in different parts of the city, so it's not (just) there,” Allen said. “When you look at the reports, it's not a whole lot for 2 1/2 months.”

Police drive by the block constantly because of how often they drive up and down South Broadway, Allen said. Bus stops near Englewood Parkway and South Acoma Street see similar activity, he added.

The Englewood Police Impact Team, which focuses on “problem locations,” seeks out partnerships with communities, and works with businesses and city departments, was assigned to the area around Giving Heart, among its other assignments.

According to a police memorandum on what Impact Team officers found during the week of Jan. 23 and the next week — observing the block in both plain clothes and in uniform — officers did not see criminal violations or homeless people loitering on the block. In total, the police department received nine calls for service specifically involving transients in the area over a sixth-month period going back to last summer, according to the memo.

“From my observations, I conclude there is no evidence to substantiate the claim of criminal activity due to Giving Heart being located in this block,” the memo said. “Nor is their evidence showing Giving Heart to be deemed a nuisance property.”

Lindgren said he often sees emergency vehicles on the block on nights with particularly cold weather — when Giving Heart gives people a place to wait for a shuttle that takes them to churches in the area for shelter — which results in a few hours with no customers, he said.

“It looks like there's been an incident, so no one comes in,” Lindgren said. “Either there's a mob outside that scares them off, or” it looks like an incident just happened.

Warmer days generally don't have such issues, which is why Lindgren thinks police don't find more concerning conditions there. Saturdays, one of the days Giving Heart provides a meal, and cold nights that warrant the shuttle — when it's wet and 32 degrees or less, or dry and 20 degrees or less — are when Lindgren sees problems.

“They've been slowly getting worse, not better,” since Lindgren moved to the location, he said.

According to the police memo, members of Giving Heart said they have included mental-health professionals to be on site when there is a “gathering,” and if patrons exhibit disruptive behavior or criminal activity, or are intoxicated, they are removed and banned from service. Giving Heart now conducts regular trash cleanups of the alley and block, said Eric Keck, Englewood city manager.

City officials, organizations and churches have identified that “a minimum amount” of collaboration is currently working to address homelessness in the city in general, said Zimmerman, the Giving Heart director.

Out of that gap, the Change the Trend Network — whose members represent not-for-profits, churches and ministries, Keck said — has come together to discuss broad community involvement weekly to address homelessness and educate the public on the topic, Zimmerman said. Giving Heart works with the organization.

“The homeless situation is bad on South Broadway,” Martinez said. “I personally have been dealing with this situation for over a year,” waiting for the city to address the issue.

But Lindgren's patience has run out, and he has considered moving out of Englewood when his lease expires.

“As of now, I'm just waiting to see if the city will do anything about this,” Lindgren wrote in an email to Russell in January, “or if it will just get continually tabled until the businesses around just move.”

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