I am writing to address the concerns that some have brought before the City Council regarding the business that I own and operate called Joe’s Addiction, and to ask you to consider not taking action to terminate our business license. If we are doing something illegal, please tell me and we will stop. If we can work together better with the city in some way, we want to do so.

Part of the reason for me to write this letter is that I will not be in town for the next Council meeting, due to a prior engagement out of state.  I hope that we can figure out how to work together to benefit Valley Brook and simultaneously address any concerns you have about Joe’s Addiction.  I would be happy to dialogue with any of you after you have read this letter, on any issue of concern or confusion. In this letter I want to address the benefits of having Joe’s in Valley Brook, tackle the rumors and misconceptions that I am aware of, and address our shared safety concerns.

Before Joe’s Addiction opened, the entire building at 1806 SE 59th sat empty, and had for some time. Joe’s Addiction has been open and operating as a business in Valley Brook for over six years.

As a follower of Jesus, I operate my business not merely as a means of earning money, but as I believe He has called us to live—loving Him and loving one another.  There is no separation in my understanding between doing business and doing “life.”  Therefore, as I have encountered needs in the Valley Brook community, it has been my desire to help address these needs.

SERVICES TO THE COMMUNITY:
Over the years, we have provided many services to the people of Valley Brook, through programs, as well as through encouragement of individuals to live in such a way as to bless and help one another.

These free services range from Christmas Toy Stores each year, to GED preparation classes, food for the hungry in the neighborhood, to providing free coats in the winter through the Free Store, hosting and sponsoring Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, to mowing and raking lawns, and trimming and hauling fallen trees after ice storms.

We took the ugly, glass and garbage littered lot behind Joe’s and planted grass and made a picnic and grilling area for the neighborhood. If people need eye glasses, fans in summer, heaters in winter, or a computer to apply for a job, or assistance in making a resume, we do what we can to help them. Below is an attempt to put a dollar figure on what Joe’s Addiction’s contribution to Valley Brook has been this past year, and every year.

Annual Direct Benefit to Valley Brook Annual Financial Value Joe’s adds to Valley Brook

Sales Tax to Valley Brook$1,700

Christmas Gifts for over 400 children and adults$4,000

Over 200 pair of eye glasses & eye exams$20,000

Annual Thanksgiving dinners serving over 400/yr$3,600

Food Pantry 80 families/month$28,800

30 meals a day given away for anyone who comes in hungry$32,400

Free Store: blankets, coats and essentials$31,200

Community Assistance: Ice storm cleanup, mowing and raking lawns, cleaning homes$1,160

Donation of fans in summer and heaters in winter$280

Free coffee for anyone who can’t pay$1,580

Donation of rent for NA and AA meetings$10,400

Total$135,120 per year

 

In other words, to not renew Joe’s Addiction’s business license would cost Valley Brook community over $135,000 per year of tangible assets.

From the time we opened, people from the neighborhood have come in needing help.

Valley Brook has many residents that are way below the poverty line. The latest census shows that the median income for Valley Brook is less than $25,000/year. As you know, minimum wage does not suffice. Many Valley Brook citizens live on food stamps and other forms of government assistance and are in need of food, clothing, household items, help paying utilities, etc.

Some of the people we have served through Joe’s Addiction are those with mental illness. As we have developed relationship with them, we have helped to get them into programs that are providing the medications that they need to live stably.  As we see them regularly, we are also able to provide encouragement to consistently take their medication. We have witnessed several of these people become capable of living on their own. The occurrences of visiting the mental hospital and calling the Valley Brook police have decreased.

As you know, some of the landlords in Valley Brook do not maintain their properties well. We have encountered people who have holes in their roofs and in their walls. The neighborhood cats come into these homes through the holes and use them as bathrooms. We have helped to fill these holes, repair windows, fix plumbing, clean out garbage and countless cockroaches. In each of these situations, we also provide training and encouragement in how to better maintain these homes.

Many in Valley Brook have a hard time paying their cooling and heating bills. In some cases we have provided box fans or space heaters. As we cannot always help financially, we have provided a location where people can come in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. We do not turn these people away, nor place a time limit on how long they can sit inside of Joe’s. Rather, we welcome folks to get out of the weather. This often results in a happy crowd playing Skipbo!

Homeless:
There is a sizable homeless community in the vicinity of Valley Brook. The causes of homelessness range from, mental disease, drug addiction or financial woes. Some of the homeless who live south of Valley Brook are NOT sex offenders. We have helped and served homeless women and families with children as well. For several months, there was a family living in the circular structure behind the M-store.

Besides food, we have provided rides once a month to a health clinic, where they can receive medical care as well as help with women’s needs, such as birth control and pregnancy tests.

We attempt to help people become no longer homeless through looking for adequate employment, helping with applications for disability when appropriate, transporting and admitting people into existing homeless shelters or available housing programs and sometimes drug rehab facilities. Each of these services is provided on a case by case basis, as we get to know the needs of the individuals.

These people are not created by Joe’s, but are part of the reality of the world we live in. Getting rid of Joe’s will not solve homelessness.

Sex Offender complaints:
I have heard the complaints of Valley Brook citizens both from the Council meeting and in the media, and it seems to me that the concerns have to do with sex offenders being in the neighborhood.  Complaints that they are walking the streets at night, that they are sleeping near the creek, that they rob houses, that they masturbate in public.

It seems to me that if these illegal activities are taking place, the coffee shop is in no way connected to these issues.  These would be the responsibility of the Valley Brook Police Department. At Joe’s Addiction, we simply serve coffee and offer a welcome to anyone who comes in the door. We would never tolerate these behaviors on our premises. When we moved into the neighborhood, on multiple occasions, we had to stop dancers/prostitutes from the clubs from having sex on our property out in the open.  Having Joe’s has helped regulate the sexual atmosphere of Valley Brook—not caused more problems.

Joe’s tries to serve anyone who walks through our door. Though I know some establishments in Valley Brook that have bragged to me about not serving African-Americans, we abide by the spirit of the law which says I may not discriminate, nor violate anyone’s civil liberties.  The people we serve are made up from all walks of life, drug addicts and cops, bouncers and dancers, veterans and alcoholics, pastors and the lonely.  One segment are those who the felons, who have paid their legal debt to society for their crimes and now want a cup of coffee. We as a business must serve them.

MISUNDERSTANDINGS, Rumors (and possibly falsehoods) regarding Joe’s Addiction:
1. Outhouse. It has come to me that there is a rumor that we had an outhouse behind Joe’s for the homeless to use.  This is not true in any way.  There was a small structure that was sitting behind Joe’s for a few days.  The structure came from the wooded area behind the M convenience store at Eastern and 59th.

Homeless people had been evicted from that land, and it was a mess.  There was trash everywhere, broken tents, pieces of furniture, wood, etc.  The people who attend the church that meets at Joe’s on Sundays decided to go and clean up the property, as an act of kindness to the man who owns it.  They knew that it would be a frustrating hassle to him to have to go in and haul off all that trash.

In cleaning up the place, they felt that structure (that had been used as a shower stall by some of the homeless) was reusable wood and tin, and so rather than hauling it off to the dump, they dragged it up to Joe’s for us to use.

Before we could determine what to do with it, I received a phone call from an angry citizen that said that a homeless person had used it as an outhouse.  I immediately investigated and found this to be true. We quickly dismantled the structure.

It was never built to be an outhouse. It was never intended by Joe’s for that use.

It merely is unfortunate that a homeless man decided to use it as a toilet. (Homeless people often do not have good mental/decision making capabilities 

Yes, the structure was on the property of Joe’s Addiction, but again, it seems to me that rather than this being the fault of my business, if a homeless person defecates in public, that would be something the Valley Brook police should be called to deal with. As a coffee shop, we do not encourage or wink at public defecation.

2. Shower. I have also heard complaints about a shower being built in the back yard of Joe’s for the homeless.  I am guessing that this rumor originates with the same structure as above—the structure that had been a shower stall.  No shower has ever been built for homeless behind Joe’s.

3. Halfway House.  The church that meets at Joe’s Addiction purchased the house that sits behind Joe’s.  The rumor that has come back to me is that this is for the purpose of a halfway house.  This is not true.  It has been purchased as a rental home. It will be at the discretion of the church who they decide to rent the house to.  Rumors have said that sex offenders will live there.  This cannot possibly be true, as it is against the law for sex offenders to live within Valley Brook city limits.  No sex offender will EVER live there, even for one night.

4. Loitering. There is no loitering allowed outside Joe’s Addiction.  This matter has been a problem in the past, but it has been addressed.  We have removed the tables from the front sidewalk. No one is allowed to stand out front, even for the purpose of smoking. A designated smoking area has been made in the back.  Some of the photos and video that have circulated of people outside of Joe’s are these photos.  These are customers who have gone outside to smoke. They are to return to the shop after they finish their cigarette.  (I want to point out that this kind of restriction would not be placed upon any other restaurant in Oklahoma City. A stopwatch is not used to make sure people do not sit in the smoking section too long. However, knowing that some of the customers at Joe’s MAY be sex offenders, we have created this rule to help alleviate some of the concerns/fears of those in the neighborhood.)

I understand and am very sympathetic to the concerns regarding sex offenders and the potential dangers that they present. I am a victim of sex abuse myself, both as a child and a teenager. I am very aware of the dangers and the fears that accompany the presence of these sex offenders.

I also have five children of my own, and a grand baby on the way. As any mother would be, I am protective of my own children.

My own story is that God has helped me to forgive and has brought an immense amount of healing in my life that has allowed me to see these sex offenders as human beings. As I have come to know some of them, I have discovered that each one of them have a story—just as any of us do.

It is important to make the distinction: not all “sex offenders” are rapists or child molesters. One story is that as a young man, 19 years old, he slept with his 16 year old girlfriend. His crime took place in another state—a state that classified this crime as a misdemeanor.  He paid his fines and moved on with his life.  Many years later, after having married and having a family, he moved to Oklahoma. He should have checked the sex offender laws of Oklahoma, but he did not. After living here for several months, the police raided his home and arrested him for “failure to register.”  He spent time in prison for this crime. In Oklahoma, his ID now wields the title of “sex offender.”

When we met this man, he was homeless, dejected and depressed. He had not been able to find work, and the countless attempts had left him feeling hopeless. At Joe’s, we began to feed him and encourage him to look up, to believe again, to start again. After some months, he began looking for work. He finally found a full-time, good paying job. He has married a wonderful woman and is quite happy. He has become a productive member of society again and is not sponging off of the government or any other form of handout. He has now turned around and is helping others look for employment.

I really do understand the concern/fear that parents in Valley Brook are experiencing.  However, there are some things that simply are the reality that we as a community must live with.  It seems to be the impression of some that if Joe’s Addiction were not here, the sex offenders would not be in Valley Brook. And that is just not the truth.

1. Hand Up Ministries is located right down the street.  This is a fact that no one can do anything about at this time.  (Joe’s Addiction has no affiliation whatsoever with HUM. Joe’s Addiction opened in 2007. Hand Up Ministries located to SE 59th St. in 2009. The first I knew of Hand Up was years after we had been doing business and serving the Valley Brook community.)

2. There is no law that prohibits the sex offenders from walking the streets of Valley Brook or going into the businesses of Valley Brook.

With these realities in place, we are faced with some options in our response.

CLEANING UP THE MESS OF THE SEX INDUSTRY
It seems ironic to me that the strip clubs allow sex offenders to come in, get drunk and get sexually aroused—knowing that they have a sex crime in their history.  I am aware of numerous occasions when this scenario has occurred, and if you will check your VB police records, you will find that there have been occasions in which sex offenders have been arrested for public drunkenness and lewd behavior either inside the strip clubs or having just exited the clubs.

It seems to me that it is much better for sex offenders to be allowed to drink coffee and to hang out in a brightly lit, open place that is also providing encouragement for them to choose a good path for their lives.

Perhaps you are unaware of what is going on in the strip clubs of Valley Brook. I have visited all of the clubs personally over the years and have had countless conversations with both female employees and men who frequent the clubs.

It is my opinion that we (at Joe’s Addiction) are cleaning up the “mess” that these clubs produce in society. This is in a both physical/literal sense, as well as in a metaphorical way.

Many times, I have mopped up and cleaned chairs soiled by urine from a drunk man who was specifically sent by club employees to Joe’s to sober up before he drives home. The clubs illegally over pour and allow these men to get into a hazardous condition. Countless times after allowing a drunk man from the clubs to sleep it off (and pee on himself, my furniture, and my floor), I have called for a cab to take him home.

As a friend and helper to many who hang out at Joe’s, I have influenced men to no longer go to the women who are prostituting in the clubs.  Some of these men have changed their value system, as they have begun to recognize those women as human beings—someone’s daughter.

As a friend and helper to girls who have prostituted in the clubs, I have influenced them to in the very least use condoms to prevent the spread of disease, and to in the most, stop prostituting entirely—and I have seen a number of women take this advice and improve their lives.

Before we built the deck and yard behind Joe’s, on a regular basis as we took out the trash at night, we encountered men and women leaning against our back wall, engaged in various sexual acts. The police did not stop this behavior, nor did the citizens of Valley Brook seem concerned about it. It was just “normal” or the “way things are.”  These public sexual acts were eliminated by our presence and the building of a more public space behind Joe’s.

There are many citizens of Valley Brook, as well as Oklahoma and the nation, who would see the source of the problems in Valley Brook not as Joe’s Addiction, but the sex industry that this town in known for.

I am sure that you are aware of the reputation that Valley Brook has. Wikipedia even calls it the “anus of Oklahoma County.”  It is known for its clubs, prostitution, drug and alcohol trafficking and addiction, slum lords, and crime.  To me, this is a very sad reality.

I am wondering if this conflict regarding Joe’s Addiction is an opportunity for the City Council and the citizens of Valley Brook to reconsider the purpose and future of this neighborhood and community.

I have enclosed a copy of the current zoning laws for the City of Valley Brook.

From the zoning laws: “It has been apparent that the concentration of ‘adult entertainment uses’ in the town tends to result in the blighting and deterioration of those areas subject to such concentration. Accordingly, it is deemed necessary to regulate such uses in a manner reasonably calculated to prevent the occurrence of such deleterious effects upon surrounding properties and their effect on the health and welfare of the community.”

The zoning laws go on to then define which sexual acts can be performed for money in the sexual businesses of Valley Brook Municipality. They include massage parlors, peep shows, sexual movie houses, and what are called “sexual encounter centers.” The zoning laws allow for every form of prostitution, graphically listed down to the detail that defecating on another person for money is legal and acceptable.

There are those who call the sex offenders “perverts,” and I would like to point out that the Valley Brook city zoning laws specifically allow for acts of sexual “perversion.”  (This is specific wording in the zoning laws.)

It is my contention that Joe’s Addiction is not contributing to the problems of crime, sexual perversion, addiction and danger. Rather, we are cleaning up the mess that is created by an industry that perpetuates sexual addictions and perversions. You don’t shut down a laundromat because there are dirty clothes there. Even as a laundromat doesn’t create dirty clothing but is cleaning them, so we at Joe’s do not make the sexual addiction, but we are part of the solution.

Valley Brook zoning laws concede that it is well known the damage the sex industry does to the community. Although past generations of City Council members decided that this would be the industry for Valley Brook, today’s generation living and working in Valley Brook does not need to continue what the zoning laws call “blighting,” “deterioration,” and “deleterious.” Perhaps a new dream for Valley Brook can be dreamed.

SAFTEY
A very legitimate concern that some Valley Brook residents have is the safety of their children. Valley Brook is the wrong place to live if one is concerned about safety. Health-wise, residents live next to a dump and a water sewer treatment plant that the EPA reports five times in the last four years has allowed dangerous levels of fecal matter into the Valley Brook water system. The Superfund index places Valley Brook’s quality of health in the bottom 20th percentile.

Though it is my hope that this has permanently changed, there was a time when Valley Brook was a meth production and distribution hub. Violent crimes are no stranger to the history of Valley Brook. And theft is something we at Joe’s experienced long before sex offenders moved into the trailer park.

It seems to me that walking and driving past giant, full-color, lit signs of scantly dressed, seductive women—visible to all as a welcome to Valley Brook, greeting all who drive into our city, is not “safe” for children.  Neither is entering convenience stores where pornography is kept near the door at child-eye-level. These potentially produce perversion in children’s own sexual lives.

Every evening, piles of sexed-up and alcoholed-up people from all over the state drive to Valley Brook with one thing on their mind. They are not traced. No one has any idea who they are. They pose a great deal higher danger to our community than those we know and can track. Why does Valley Brook welcome the underbelly of society every night into the community and raise no alarm, but is up in arms about a coffee shop that is trying to change things? Something is out of order here.

Of course, one bad answer is that if families do not like these things, they can move somewhere else. But I am wondering if this may be a time for the Valley Brook City Council and residents to consider whether it might be time to reform the purpose and intent of Valley Brook’s businesses. The City Council in the past made a poor choice to welcome the sex industry to control the future of Valley Brook. It is time for the new Council to map out a brighter future, and we at Joe’s Addiction want to be a part of that future.

In light of the reality that sex offenders live down the street and walk in the Valley Brook neighborhood, there are some things that we have done and can do to keep the women and children as safe as possible.

  1. When sex offenders began to frequent Joe’s Addiction, I began to do some research. I have developed a good working relationship with the Oklahoma City Department of Corrections. I have met with many of the probation officers that oversee the sex offenders. This has given me access and a quick and listening ear to report any behavior that we might see and feel concerned about.
  2. For those sex offenders that have requested help from us and become frequent customers of Joe’s, we have done a background check, contacted their probation officer, discovered what the requirements are for them, etc.  No predators are allowed to be at Joe’s if a child is present or during any special activities at which children may be present, (i.e. talent shows, holiday parties). This is a rule created by the D.O.C. and enforced by us at Joe’s.
  3. We hosted an Educational meeting at Joe’s Addiction that was sponsored by the Department of Corrections. This was open to all of the citizens of Valley Brook. Only a few came. We found the information that they provided extremely helpful for recognizing the methods and means that sexual predators use. They helped us to know what to watch for. Not only did this help make us more vigilant, but it also alleviated fears of the unknown.  This training was extremely helpful, and we would be happy to host another event of its kind for the benefit of more people in the community.
  4. We have eliminated loitering on the front sidewalk of Joe’s. I removed the outside tables. Those who need to smoke must go out to the back deck. They are encouraged to smoke and then return—not to loiter there. This is helping to create a better atmosphere for those who are entering the convenience store next to us.

CONCLUSION:
In the past, we have always complied with not only the legal requirements of Valley Brook, but we have also attempted to address any concerns that have been brought to us by city officials. We pay our taxes. We bring income into the city. And we serve the Valley Brook residents. It is my desire to continue to do business and service to the community of Valley Brook.

Not only do I love and care about this community, but it would be a large financial loss for me to close down or to attempt to move to another location. I have approximately $70,000 invested in the startup and maintenance of Joe’s Addiction that would be lost if the City Council decides to not renew my business license.

I sincerely and humbly ask that you consider the evidence that I have laid out for you here and allow me to continue to operate Joe’s Addiction in the Town of Valley Brook, Oklahoma. And hope that together we can make a better future for Valley Brook! I would be happy to dialogue with any of you on any issue of concern.

Jamie Zumwalt
Owner, Joe’s Addiction