Safety concerns force low-income New Castle residents from home
Residents of the old schoolhouse in New Castle understand the safety concerns leading to the court order to vacate by noon on Good Friday, but grieve the loss of a home and community.
“I feel like there could have been other ways to go about the situation, rather than kicking everyone out into the streets with nowhere to go,” said Kiana Pena.
Pena moved the last of her belongings out of the building moments before the noon deadline, with the help of Jonathan Ford, who assisted other residents, including a family with five children, in the days and hours before police arrived to ensure the structure was empty.
Four New Castle Police officers walked through the red doors of the schoolhouse, plastered with court notices, at 12:01. They exited five minutes later without incident.
SAFETY CONCERNS understood
The New Castle Municipal Court issued the notice to vacate April 11, after previous orders for building owner Rosie Ferrin to fix a slate of “life-safety issues,” code violations including electrical issues, no heating, missing smoke detectors and alarm systems, and blocked emergency exit windows.
The order “says that because of outstanding and long-standing code violations that had to do with safety, the judge felt that it was safer to get folks out of the building until such time as repairs can be made,” New Castle Town Administrator David Reynolds said.
Those who know the building said it was clear that it needed repair.
“It can be touched up. I’m not going to sit here and spackle and paint to make it what it ain’t,” Ford, who came to help the residents move, said of the building.
“But if you’re going to just drop people out of their home, at least give them a place where they can settle,” he said.
Many of the former residents moved to The Ranch, also owned by Ferrin.
“My big concern is for the community. Everybody knows the class of people that live here, and this is a safe place for those people to be,” said Mike Runia, an outreach minister with The Pointe church in Glenwood Springs.
“Now that that’s taken away, I’m curious to see how that affects the community,” he said.
place of recovery
After a court hearing about a month ago when it became clear the notice to vacate was coming, Runia, who lived in the schoolhouse several years ago, helped form a Wednesday Bible study for the residents “to pray, and just get into the world and build our faith up a little.”
The group will continue to meet in the park next door.
On Facebook, many New Castle citizens criticized the building as being a drug den for the people it attracts, something that Pena vehemently disagrees with.
“If you are not helping yourself, Rosie will kick you out,” Pena said. The schoolhouse is a place of recovery, Pena said, “but if you’re not trying, and you’re just using (Rosie), she’s not going to deal with that.”
Pena herself was homeless before she moved into the schoolhouse around two months ago. “Rosie definitely saved me,” she said. Pena did not blame Ferrin for failing to address the code violations, but hopes that the building will get up to code soon.
Until then, Pena is not sure where she will be living. She plans to keep up with the weekly Bible study, however, and hopes members of the broader New Castle community will check it out as well.
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