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Local safety nets strained by legalization of pot

HUERFANO — There are many entities to consider when discussing the topic of pot, and this article looks at the affects experienced by the Huerfano County Department of Social Services and local churches. One common thread voice across the board, even outside of these two focus groups, is the definite rise in homelessness and new people walking the streets in Huerfano County. At the DOSS, there has been a definite rise in case load, but they have no hard data to say it is a direct result of pot legalization. According to Sheila Hudson-Macchietto, director at the Huerfano County DOSS, the increase in case load, along with the struggle of staff turnover in the last 12 months, times have been tough. Currently, they are fully staffed and Hudson-Macchietto anticipates they will soon have their new people trained and be able to handle the caseloads at the current level. “We have adequate administration funding for the current staff, however, if case loads continue to increase, we would not have sufficient funding to hire more staff to administer these programs,” Hudson-Macchietto says. Hudson-Macchietto explained how she relies on county, state, and federal funding for her programs. Administration of all programs are 80% state/federal and 20% county funded. Food Assistance and Medicaid program

benefits are 100% federally funded, Temporary Aide to Needy Families is a Block Grant consisting of federal, state and county monies and Child Protection Services are 80% state and 20% county funded. Of the churches representatives who responded to the call out for information, each had pretty much the same response; the homelessness has definitely increased. Morgan Ministries has seen a slight increase in people coming in for handouts, but their offices aren’t as visible in La Veta as most churches. Several churches reported on the homeless who are often coming in on Sunday’s, sometimes interrupting services, asking for help. Each church says they weigh each case individually as to what, if any, help they will or can offer. Aggressive behaviors have also been witnessed by a couple of churches when those asking for help feel their needs haven’t been met. Some of the homeless have responded with physical threats, and one pastor even had someone sitting on their front porch, expecting a room, when they got home. Three Huerfano area churches who have requested anonymity, have also increased security inside their churches, one including installation of a security system. While all pastors had basically the same overall response to the increase in those asking for help, Debbie Reynolds of The Full Gospel Church in Walsenburg said it best: “As a church pastor, I believe that we as a community can pray and continue praying for wisdom and strength to be light houses in our community. Matthew 5:14. A ray of hope for the hopeless. After all, let’s ask ourselves the question, where and what would we be without our Lord Jesus.” Continuing, she said we need to “…not only [be] looking or thinking that we are doomed because of the changes in our laws legalizing that drug, but take the opportunity to be a witness of God’s grace to us all, remembering where much sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Amen!” Romans 5:20 There were two overwhelming responses from all the pastors: 1. There is a need to show Jesus in every circumstance. Even though they may not be able to help a person monetarily at that moment, they count it a blessing when they can help someone with a legitimate need, as often as the Lord leads. 2. Discussion has been started on ways to be of help to these people, one of which is a need for a food bank in La Veta and a soup kitchen in both Walsenburg and La Veta. While our locals have seen a change in surroundings since the legalization of pot, there are statewide studies going on right now. One such study is from The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) group formed to disrupt drug trafficking, has published statewide reports showing adverse affects of legalized pot in Colorado, including traffic deaths, impaired driving, youth and adult use, emergency room admissions. Go to www.rmhidta.org, and click on “Reports” in the red menu bar. As with everything, always check all sources; some of the conclusions drawn by this group are disputed. According to a report in the Denver Post, data within the RMHIDTA reports may be skewed, noting that a broad Colorado Healthy Kids Survey found that marijuana use rate among Colorado high school students appears to have decreased from 2009 to 2013. www.denverpost.com/news/ ci_28814672/colorado-pot-critics-report-suggests-bad-side-effects.