By Miguel Juárez
Editor’s Note: Individuals interviewed here have asked to remain anonymous. El Paso News is honoring their requests. This article has been updated.
The lives of the residents of the Val Verde community, like so many others, have been disrupted due to Covid-19. But some communities’ lives have been impacted more than others. Two months ago city and county agencies made the decision to house part of El Paso’s homeless population in the Val Verde neighborhood and make the Senior Citizen Center Los Hilos de Plata Senior Center located at 4451 Delta Dr., an entry location for the homeless population. The Chalio Acosta Sports Center at 4321 Delta Dr. is also being used to house the population. Aside from the numerous problems which has resulted by this decision, two long-time neighborhood grocery stores/ meat markets (tienditas) have closed.
The Val Verde neighborhood is a historically marginalized and lower middle class neighborhood south of the Medical Center of the Americas and north of Delta Avenue. The neighborhood is north of the city’s sewage treatment center and is also in proximity of other existing shelters and the Salvation Army of El Paso County, located at 4300 E. Paisano Dr. The community has experienced its share of hardship and with the arrival of the homeless community, it will be challenged once again.
El Paso News reached out to Commissioner David Stout’s office and we were told that city and county officials made the decision to convert the closed Delta Center as a triage center for homeless persons entering the system and that the site, as well as the sport center act as as an overflow space for the Opportunity Center. We were told that the decision to use the Delta Center was made because the facility had a kitchen and the building was large enough to accommodate the population. They stated that the centers were on a bus route so the population has access to downtown El Paso, the Opportunity Center, and to banks and laundromats, as well as other places requiring transportation services.
Neither the county, nor the city met with residents before making their decision to house the population at the Delta Center, but Commissioner Stout’s office stated that in the past it has been used by displaced persons as in Hurricane Rita. In the pre-Covid era, senior citizens and the community, used the center to exercise, use the swimming pool and in the summer months they used it to escape the sweltering heat by taking advantage of the center as a cooling area.
Historically, communities of color like the Valverde neighborhood have experienced the brunt of changes to its social fabric. With Covid-19 affecting El Paso perhaps well into 2021, the situation has the possibility of becoming much worse before it gets better.
Although city agencies have stated that homeless individuals in the community are being monitored 24/7, residents have reported homeless persons have been seem roaming the streets and that many of these individuals are not wearing masks. Residents reported that the homeless persons are largely unsupervised, some of them are sleeping on the sidewalks and/or shaded areas. Residents reported that certain persons have been seen drinking and urinating in the streets. They also stated that last month, a homeless person was run over by a car.
The neighborhood formerly had two operating grocery stores, the Comanche Meat Market (Carniceria) and Sanchez Grocery and Meat Shop. The Comanche Meat Market had operated for the last 18 years. This week, it closed due to the aggressive behavior by certain homeless individuals who were entering the store and wanted the owner to sell them beer on a credit basis. To comply with social distancing, the owner at the meat market was only allowing entry into the store one person at time, but certain homeless persons were not honoring the store policies. In addition, they weren’t wearing masks. Instead of dealing with these issues, the owner closed and posted signs stating she was closing due to Covid-19 related reasons. Sanchez Grocery had operated continuously for the last 40-50 years, also closed.
The removal of these two stores have compromised resident’s ability to to purchase food and other basic necessities. Not all residents have cars to be able to drive further to purchase groceries.
This is not a anti-homeless article, but an example of the failure of community development and the lack of compassion and communication with the neighborhood and the rush of agencies using Covid-19 as an excuse to abdicate responsibility. It is also a social justice issue. We will update readers on this developing story as we obtain additional information.
For further information contact Commissioner David Stout’s (Precinct 2) Office at: 915-546-2111 or via e-mail at: Commissioner2@epcounty.com