PUEBLO, Colo. - As many as 600 homeless and low-income people have moved to Pueblo recently, raising concern about the city's ability to help them.
City Council President Steve Nawrocki recently discussed the situation.
"From what I hear, they're being forced out of other cities," he said. "Some of those cities have programs offering free bus tickets if people want to go elsewhere, or there are fewer resources available, or there's stricter enforcement by authorities."
Travis Williams, vice president of advancement at the Springs Rescue Mission in Colorado Springs, is surprised to hear of the situation.
"We're not hearing a lot about this movement concept," he said. "That's just not something that's on our radar screen or that we're hearing about. We haven't seen any verifiable data that points to that. But I can say we're definitely not forcing anyone out. We have expanded resources and want to help as many people as we can."
Nawrocki said the additional Pueblo homeless arrived during the last six months of 2016.
"I'm worried about how we'll take care of them with our limited resources," he said. "And I wonder how many more are coming."
Anne Stattleman, executive director of the Posada help agency in Pueblo, confirmed Nawrocki's statements.
"This is the continuation of a three-year trend," she said. "Every year we've seen a doubling of people coming to us for help. Last year we served 7,800 individuals. That's the most ever in our history. Around 2,700 of them probably qualify as full-time homeless."
Stattleman said a third of that number are people from other states drawn to Pueblo by legalized marijuana, the hope of employment, good weather and expanded Medicaid benefits.
She said 800 people in the city have listed marijuana -- either using it or working in a related industry -- as a reason for being in Pueblo.
"They may be low-income and not homeless when they get here," she said. "But they soon become homeless because they don't have jobs and have no place to live. Our problem in Pueblo is that we're a poor community, we don't have a lot of employment (and) we certainly don't have the housing infrastructure."
The lack of available, affordable housing is the biggest obstacle to Joseph Abeyta, 48, getting out of the homeless category. He said he and his wife have lived in his pickup truck for the past few months.
"I've been able to find work occasionally," he said. "But most places want security deposits and rent in advance. Coming up with that much money is nearly impossible."
Abeyta said he now worries about competing with hundreds of out-of-state homeless for housing and other limited resources.
But Stattleman said Abeyta doesn't have to worry about that.
"Local needs come first," she said. "But the sad truth is we don't have enough resources for all of the Pueblo needs, let along the people from other states or even other cities such as Denver and Colorado Springs."
Stattleman said the solution is to make homelessness a higher priority in Pueblo and have a community discussion on the subject.
"This is tough to hear but maybe it's time to get the message out," she said. "Don't come here unless you have a job, a place to live and a means of support. We need to say that."
Compounding the problem, Stattleman said, is that 60 percent of the homeless are families with children and the city has a shortage of temporary shelter beds.
"I think people care but don't know what to do about it," she said. "It's such an influx."