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Desk closings lead to homeless entering dorms, students say

Palo Verde

The front desk at Palo Verde East sits empty after student housing closed or reduced operating hours of several desks at dorms around campus in order to implement a condensed service system.

Students say the closing of service desks at two Tempe campus residence halls, Palo Verde East and Palo Verde West, has allowed homeless people and other unwanted guests to wander into the dormitories and disturb residents.

Police records support the claims, showing at least four incidents of suspicious persons entering Palo Verde West since the beginning of the semester.

The ease at which non-residents can enter the two halls has some students concerned about safety. Residential Life officials addressed those concerns this month, promising students front desk personnel would be reinstated at the two halls.

Residents describe homeless men sleeping in the lounge areas and harassing women. One man pretended to sell newspapers in order to take students’ credit card numbers.

The incidents began this semester after Residential Life officials implemented a campus-wide service model that established single, 24-hour service desks at student housing complexes around campus, thereby closing or shortening operation hours at desks in some dorm buildings. These closings include the front desks of Palo Verde East and Palo Verde West — two north campus halls where students expressed concerns about non-residents gaining access to living spaces.

“It’s really easy just to walk in,” said Paige Rowley, a business communication freshman who lives in Palo Verde West.

Several students at Rowley’s dorm said non-residents, including homeless people, have been following students into the hall.

“There’s an incident (where) there (was) a homeless person sleeping in our lounge on the fourth floor,” Rowley said.

The two halls require residents to swipe their student IDs at card readers both inside and outside the dorms. The first reader allows access through the halls’ front doors. The second card reader allows access to the living quarters. But with no front desk personnel watching the entrance, anyone can easily enter the building by following a student with an access card.

Senior Director of Residential Life Kendra Hunter said after hearing safety concerns from students and staff this semester, housing officials decided to re-establish front desk positions at the two dorms.

“Beginning in January 2012, the front desks at Palo Verde East and Palo Verde West will return to being staffed from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily,” Hunter said in a statement. “This will ensure a visible presence in the halls and deter unauthorized persons from entering the buildings without a resident escort.”

Hunter did not directly respond to questions about homeless people coming into the dorms, but stated, “safety and security of our residents is one of University Housing’s highest priorities.”

For now, Hunter recommends residents call a hall staff member or ASU Police if they notice somebody suspicious.

“Or if they feel comfortable, they could say, ‘Hey, you’re not supposed to be here, leave,’ but we don’t want them to get into any kind of dangerous situation either,” she said.


A new service model

This semester, Residential Life officials either closed or condensed operation hours of service desks at various dorms around campus. Three desks were closed on the north campus and two desks on central and south campuses are now only open part-time.

A 24-hour service desk at Palo Verde Main now serves students also living in Palo Verde East, Palo Verde West and San Pablo hall, which have vacant front desks.

In Hassayampa Academic Village, the desk on the west side of the complex in Chuparosa Hall — once open 24 hours — is only available to residents on weekdays during business hours. A sign outside the desk entrance directs students to call Hassayampa’s 24-hour east-side desk or ASU Police if an emergency arises.

McClintock Hall — a residence hall in the center of the Tempe campus — also switched from 24-hour service to a weekday and business hour operation. If students need service during off hours, they must call the main desk at Best Hall — a dorm on the south end of campus, five minutes away from McClintock Hall on foot.

Hunter explained the desk closings have been planned for some time.

About two years ago, Residential Life, a division of University Housing, began researching how to condense the amount of desks in hall complexes while providing the same level of service to residents, Hunter said. The motivation for the change was more about enhancing services than cutting costs, she said. The system enables “a seamless delivery of service,” she said.

However, Garrett Friedrich, executive director of ASU’s Residence Hall Association, believes money played a big part in the service changes.

“Part of it could be streamlining services,” Friedrich said of the system’s implementation. “But I think a lot of it came from … the unnecessary expenditures of paying student staff to man 24-hour desks when it wasn’t the most, I guess, necessary or cost effective to have.”

The change to a centralized desk at residence halls such as Palo Verde East and Palo Verde West could not be completed until the buildings’ fire monitoring systems were linked to the central desk, Hunter said. The systems include sprinklers and fire alarms that alert front desk personnel when an alarm has gone off.

“At the time, every single desk was open because every single fire board had to be monitored,” Hunter said.

The only students who have expressed concerns about the new centralized desk system have been residents from Palo Verde East and Palo Verde West, she said.

The reasons for strangers being attracted to north campus halls remain unclear.

“If I were to guess, maybe some factors have to do with … north campus (being) closer to downtown Tempe,” Friedrich said.


Strangers in the halls

It was around mid-September when Jourdan Rodrigue, a community assistant at Palo Verde West, began to hear stories from her residents about strange people walking through the halls.

“They said they were older men, very scruffy, raggedy appearance carrying a lot of clothes or luggage or something in a backpack or sack over their backs, walking around the hall,” she said.

Rodrigue hasn’t seen the homeless individuals herself, but others living in her hall have.

Exploratory freshman Chris Bingham, a resident of Palo Verde West, said there was a young homeless male named “Paris” who often came into the hall and bothered some of the residents. Several students living at Palo Verde West upheld Bingham’s story.

“We called him ‘Paris Harris’ because at first we thought his name was Harris,” Bingham said.

Students said Paris sometimes slept in the lounges and knocked on the doors of female residents.

“My guess is that he’s just looking for contact with females,” Bingham said. “He just wants to be proactive with girls.”

While there are no police records of a person named Paris, the stories told by students seem similar to ASU Police reports.

In early October, an 18-year-old female student saw a man sitting in the seventh floor lounge of Palo Verde West, according to a report. She described the man to police — black, early 20s, wearing a red plaid shirt and “possibly homeless.”

She told police student staff had escorted the man out of the hall in the past, and she felt unsafe.

The man could not be located, police reported.

In early September, ASU authorities came in contact with a 19-year-old man sleeping on a lounge couch inside Palo Verde West, according to another report. The man told police he had followed students into the dorm and “was able to gain access to the floors.” Hall staff gave him a verbal trespass warning, police reported.

Students living in Palo Verde East share similar stories of strangers wandering into the dormitory.

Resident John Peruch, a business law freshman, described one incident in which a man came into the dorm and pretended to sell newspapers to students. It turned out he was just taking students’ credit card numbers, he said.

Peruch complimented the hall’s community assistants for how they handle the unwanted guests.

“Our CAs do a pretty good job if they see anybody,” Peruch said.


Addressing safety

Student housing officials aren’t the only ones who plan to address the issue of suspicious people entering the dorms.

The desk closings on north campus have attracted the attentions of several student leaders.

Undergraduate Student Government Vice President of Services Tina Mounlavongsy said the closing of the desks was an extra reason to support a safety initiative already being developed by the student government. USG members are working with ASU Police and University officials to install more emergency call boxes around campus.

The idea of placing call boxes within the residence halls has also been brought up among USG members, said Mounlavongsy, a biological sciences senior.

“It’s not like any instance or any statistics show that (call boxes are) a huge, huge need, but we definitely feel like it’s precautionary and definitely students should have available if an instance were to come up,” she said.

There are currently four call boxes near the Palo Verde residence halls.

USG Vice President of Policy James Baumer, a political science senior, said the extra call boxes could be put in place by next semester.

“Safety in general, that’s what we’re concerned about,” he said.

Mounlavongsy said plans for the call boxes would need to be approved by University administration and an ASU architect before they can move forward.


High alert

The decision to reinstate front desk personnel has pleased some residents of the two north campus halls, but it has left others with hard feelings toward the housing department’s original decision to shut down the services.

“I think that they learned their lesson in a way,” said Kelsey Keberle, president of the RHA’s PLEX Hall Council, a student government body serving both Palo Verde East and Palo Verde West halls.

Rodrigue, a community assistant in Palo Verde West, said the issue of safety has been addressed at recent floor meetings. She added the hall’s student staff has given residents the contact numbers for ASU Police and the Palo Verde Main front desk.

“All residents are on high alert now,” she said.


Contributing reporting by Caitlin Cruz. Reach the reporter at Click here to subscribe to the daily State Press newsletter.

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