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City Revisiting Policies, Dispelling Myths About Homelessness

Status quo for unhoused will not stand.

July 6, 2022

In his State of the City address Mayor Keller announced the City will be revisiting its policies toward homeless and encampments. City leaders are taking an “all of the above” approach to address homelessness and encampments in Albuquerque. At the last Council meeting, the City discussed the complexity of encampments and how to address them, and shared that over 100 encampments are cleared per month with the current policies in place.

When a resident reports an encampment to 311, City crews respond to those calls prioritizing locations that are more hazardous to the public or the individuals living in the encampment. High priority locations include areas along roadways, sidewalks and community centers or parks where youth programming is taking place. The cleanup process includes a 72-hour notice and outreach team that offers resources and information about shelters, addiction treatment, and permanent housing options.

“I have directed all our departments, including legal, to revisit our approach to homelessness, encampments, housing, and addiction, with an eye towards ‘all of the above’ when it comes to the right blend of enforcement, support, partners, and pathways off the streets. We will hold the line and be much more assertive when it comes to enforcing our laws where there are real safety issues and in places where youth programming is happening,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “We also have to create places for people to go, so they don’t just move an encampment down the road. We are going to improve public safety and provide pathways off the street.”

While shelter options like the Westside Emergency Housing Center (WEHC) exist, APD cannot arrest nor compel an unhoused individual to go to this or any other shelter. The McClendon v City of Albuquerque settlement affects when officers can seize or dispose of property, meaning they cannot simply take or dispose of tents, shopping carts, or other belongings that might be present at these encampments.

“APD arrests people who are putting others in danger or causing a serious nuisance under the current laws, and furthermore, a recently revised policy has been submitted to the DOJ for comment and review,” said APD Deputy Chief Josh Brown. City crews have completed 732 cleanups so far in 2022, and APD has made 1,011 misdemeanor arrests and issued 542 misdemeanor citations and 1,767 misdemeanor summonses, though that is citywide and not specific to encampments.

Coronado Park has been the focal point for many issues in regards to homelessness. This park is not a Safe Outdoor Space, as it does not meet the criteria set by Council which state that a SOS cannot be located in parks, must be temporary, and have an approved operational and management plan. The situation at Coronado Park is a result of the pandemic, when CDC guidance was not to move encampments in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. City leaders stressed the need to not let the status quo stand at the park, but also to make changes after appropriate legal and implementation consideration to try and prevent the issues form simply spilling out to surrounding areas.

“Closing Coronado Park, with no alternative locations and a shortage of shelter beds would mean that the folks currently living there would relocate into nearby neighborhoods or other parks,” said Carol Pierce, director of Family and Community Services. “The City is committed to finding solutions to this issue, but cannot do so without a plan to push forward on a better path for neighborhoods and our unhoused population.”  Additionally, the city has $19 million in this fiscal year’s budget for housing vouchers, an 18% increase above the previous year.

“We have to recognize the complexity of this national issue as we work toward local solutions here in Albuquerque. What people want is a quick and easy answer, but unfortunately, there isn’t one,” added Mayor Keller. “This won’t be solved by council passing one bill. There is a lot of work to be done and we need everyone to collaborate to make real progress.”

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