VALLEY BROOK — Residents of this small Oklahoma City suburb best-known for its strip clubs and recent scandals are upset that convicted sex offenders are being allowed to hang around two local businesses in town.
During the last meeting of the town's Board of Trustees, a petition signed by more 150 Valley Brook residents was submitted to elected officials, detailing their concerns.
Town Trustee Lewis Nieman said residents are upset that Joe's Addiction — a coffee shop — and Free Store Boutique — a thrift store — are routinely admitting sex offenders from the nearby Hand Up Ministries trailer park.
On its website, Hand Up Ministries describes itself as “faith-based prison aftercare program for men and women that have just been released from prison.”
It's been widely publicized in recent months that convicted sex offenders are allowed to live in the trailer park, which is just across the street from Valley Brook.
“A lot of people are concerned about it,” Nieman said. “We've only got about 400 adults in town, so having more than 150 people sign the petition is a pretty good amount.”
The petition, started by Valley Brook resident Bobby Burgess, is seeking help from the town's Board of Trustees.
Burgess, who has four small children, said the sex offenders and other homeless people who hang around Valley Brook are gaining in numbers.
“I'm tired of them being a nuisance, hanging around the neighborhood,” he said. “They don't just hang around the coffee shop ... they hang around the creek that runs through here; they're always asking people for money and walking up and down the street at all hours of the day.”
Burgess said Valley Brook is home to many children, and he believes it's just a matter of time before something happens.
“Look, they may not all be sex offenders, but sex offenders are known to live over there (Hand Up Ministries),” he said. “A lot of the kids will talk to them, just because they've been taught not to be rude. You can imagine what will happen eventually ... given enough time.”
Both Joe's Addiction and Free Store Boutique are in the same shopping center in Valley Brook. A handful of strip clubs and other businesses are clustered nearby. The town hall and police station are nearby, too.
The businesses and municipal complex line SE 59, the tiny town's northern border. Residents live south of the shopping center, in between Eastern Avenue and Crossroads Boulevard.
‘We don't discriminate'
The coffee shop's owner, Jamie Zumwalt, denied that her business is a haven for sex offenders.
“We allow anyone who wants to hang out there to do so,” Zumwalt said.
“And not just to drink coffee ... We have a food pantry on Saturdays for groceries; we have the Free Store for physical needs. ... We don't discriminate against anyone.”
Zumwalt said Joe's Addiction is more than a coffee shop. She said the businesses she runs in Valley Brook also offer free counseling services.
As for the sex offenders, Zumwalt said she hasn't had any problems with them.
“They are just like any of the other folks that we are helping,” she said. “Some of them are homeless, some are drug addicts or alcoholics. ... I'm unaware of any sexual problems ... from the folks who hang out there.”
The Rev. David Nichols, the founder of Hand Up Ministries, said he can't control where the sex offenders who live at his trailer park go or whom they interact with.
“I own the property and I have staff there, but they are not in prison anymore,” Nichols said. “It's up to the coffee shop whether they let them come there, not me.”
Nichols also said that most of the “sex offenders” who are concerning Valley Brook residents are likely homeless and not living at his trailer park.
“It's easy for them to blame me, but there are hundreds of homeless sex offenders living in that area — and all over the city,” he said.
“Most of them are not from my place.”
Nieman said local residents who signed the petition want the town's Board of Trustees to refuse to renew Zumwalt's business license, which would essentially put her out of business.
In Valley Brook, business owners must renew their business licenses once a year.
“I don't know if we're going to do that,” Nieman said. “We'll take it up at a future meeting and see what happens.”