Escalating issues with transients result in the closing of longtime Colorado Springs thrift shop
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- April marks the 65th anniversary of the Thrift House of the Episcopal Churchwomen, and it also signals the end of the longtime business on Tejon Street, just south of downtown.
"We've been hurt by some of the very people we try to help," said Manager Holly Gomez.
The Thrift House is a block from the Springs Rescue Mission and Gomez said that since the city's recently-expanded "sit-lie" ordinance prohibiting the behavior of people experiencing homelessness took effect, it has forced more of them out of downtown and led to an increase in confrontations at the Thrift House.
The worst was last December .
"On a day the manager was out of the office, a volunteer brought a man to the office," said assistant manager Rain Wise. "He locked the door and wouldn't let her leave. That lasted for an hour. He kept saying that I was part of some group who was after him, and they needed to pay him $10,000 if they wanted me to leave. He slammed is hand down on my desk several times, and grabbed me once. We didn't know if he had a knife or gun, or if he would become more violent."
Gomez said that the staff brought the unidentified man to the office because he claimed that someone with a gun was threatening people at nearby Dorchester Park.
"We called 911 but it took police a long time to get here," she recalled. "And then they said that they couldn't arrest him because they couldn't find him and didn't have enough evidence to go on. The guy didn't leave until I showed up, unlocked the door and told him to get out. He tried to argue with me, but he left."
Gomez said that the man left his phone containing his photo.
Police said the day of that incident was busy, with several higher-priority calls in progress, and that it took nearly 30 minutes to dispatch an officer from the north side of town.
"We also got conflicting information from the 911 calls about what exactly was going on," said spokesman Robert Tornabene. "The first call said there was an issue outside the business but not inside. As soon as we learned there was more to it, and that a man was forcing a woman to stay in a locked office, we raised the priority and dispatched someone. We'd like to respond sooner, but sometimes this happens if it's a busy day and we already have a shortage of officers. We understand the frustration that people have."
Gomez said that past issues have included loitering, campfires too close to the shop and people climbing onto the roof to use illegal drugs in private -- which led her to install razor wire fencing and spend thousands of dollars to repair roof damage.
"The board of three churches that own us, decided they don't want to deal with it anymore," she said.
The incident has changed both women's lives.
"I'm in therapy because of it," Wise said. "Now, I'm always scared that something is going to happen to me."
Gomez said that the store's closing means she will lose her job at an important time.
"My husband and I are trying to get a house," she said. "I have kids at home and my family depends on my job. It's tough."