The upcoming November 5, 2019 election will be the first consolidated elections for the City of Albuquerque. The ballot is lengthy and will have $127 million in city general obligation (GO) improvement bonds for voter approval. Bond Question 2 is for $21.7 million for “senior, family, community center, homeless and community enhancement bonds.” Bond Question 2 does not specifically state it, but $14 million of the $21.7 million in bonds are designated for a centralized, 24 hour a day, 7 days a week homeless shelter. The city run centralized homeless shelter would provide job training and behavioral health and treatment services for 300 people. Mayor Keller has made the shelter a major priority and he views it as critical step toward tackling the city’s homelessness crisis. No site within the city has been selected and will occur only if the bonds are approved.
Below is a guest opinion article submitted for publication on this blog by Colleen Aycock. Colleen Aycock is a resident of Four Hills in SE ABQ and organizer of “Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods”. She received her Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the Univ. of Southern California and spent her professional life writing and teaching writing at the college level, editing business magazines, and writing for the U. S. Capitol. She is a member and co-editor of IBRO (the International Boxing Research Organization), an author of 5 boxing books, and a recipient of the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame. She has spent her entire adult life in active civic volunteerism. Ms. Aycock was District Community Service Director for Rotary when she successfully integrated the Bosnian refugees allocated to Texas into Austin during the Clinton administration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The group Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods is actively seeking signatures to convene a Citizen’s Grand Jury to investigate the city’s alleged financial misappropriations of bond and other public money for projects that have inadvertently blighted the neighborhoods.
(NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are those of Colleen Aycock and do not necessarily reflect those of the political blog www.petedinelli.com blog).
GUEST EDITORIAL BY COLLEEN AYCOCK
Many non-profit organizations are doing “welfare” checks, dropping off clothes, food, and sleeping bags and sending medical service providers to the streets. But the cry is for more shelters or welfare housing. My question is: If You Build It (A Homeless Shelter proposed in the current ballot question for $21+ million) . . . . Will They Come?
The group Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods, which includes male associates, has been actively tackling this and other complex questions in our SE ABQ neighborhoods for over a year now.
The crime in Albuquerque mirrored what I had seen ten years ago on the East Coast, and friends were almost incredulous when I told them that I felt safer on the streets of west Baltimore than when I drove Central Avenue from Nob Hill to Tramway. After witnessing primarily older black women taking back their neighborhood streets in Baltimore, DC, and Philly, I thought we could do something in Albuquerque that was as low-key, yet effectively similar to those actions used by the tough-minded and demanding, yet caring individual mothers and grandmothers in Baltimore, a group that no mis-behaving young men want to cross paths with.
A small group of women friends were facing similar situations here in ABQ, especially seeing a lack of active police presence in our communities. What triggered the formation of this official group was that my married son and new father (a graduate of UNM School of Law who worked with the DA) had been robbed at gunpoint by two gang members while riding his bike on a Sunday morning in Hyde Park in Nob Hill. Both of my sons (the other was in Medical School at UNM) lived in Nob Hill and their homes had been robbed. I knew I wasn’t the only mother and new grandmother affected by crime and that my sisterhood of friends shared similar feelings of horror.
We knew personally that the problem of crime stretched to Tramway. My neighbor was killed in Four Hills on a Christmas morning by two thugs who lived off Juan Tabo and who were making a good living robbing vehicles and homes in the area. Neighbors were left feeling helpless and unprotected, so we began securing our homes with bells, whistles, and bars, putting Ring on our doors (we have 5) and hiring IPS (International Protective Services) a profitable business started by a frustrated former Albuquerque detective who thought the city deserved and could use better protection.
Homeowners felt that the city seemed to lack the resources or resolve to squelch the rising tide of crime. There were no answers, no action plans, and city departments seemed to lack the guts to attack the problem. So, I sent out an email inviting my friends to join a select group of those WITH resolve…and the resounding response was “Count me in!” You may have seen us in our red shirts at Central and Tramway on numerous occasions. We put ourselves on the streets to try to identify the truly homeless from the panhandlers, prostitutes, and drug gangs.
One year ago, when I spoke at a City Council meeting, I identified two gangs that were operating in ABQ: MS 13, and the Sinaloa Mexican Cartel. Councilor Klarrisa Pena asked me (with the same disbelief that many neighbors had who had never experienced being on the streets) if I had reported that information to the police. What an understated sentiment of disbelief that still exists on the City Council. Our own Councilor Don Harris has done nothing but propose another City-owned Community Center to address the “social” problems of homelessness through the City’s Dept. of “Family and Community Services.” (So whenever you read the words on the upcoming ballot question: “Family & Community Services, Community Center, or Services for Senior Citizens” be wary and know that those are buzz terms that the City uses for money that can be tapped into under these general terms to spend on the “homeless,” even though city leaders don’t have any plan other than to build something out of bricks and mortar to solve the problem, which is really just crime that they are unwilling to prosecute and house because there is a general belief that we have too many low-level criminals currently in our jail system. New Mexicans know better. Too many serious criminals go free. Today, in fact, I was at Eubank and Central talking to a newly released felon from a conviction on armed bank robbery.
Those of us who have been on the streets with our stern “mother/teacher voices”, running off gang members in the parks, photographing criminals stealing wire, interrupting dope addicts making deals on the streets, shaming vagrants urinating in public, and others sleeping and drinking in the parks when APD does nothing about these situations—we KNOW that the answer to these questions is not in bricks and mortar. It is not even a homeless problem! The problem we encounter is that APD refuses to enforce the laws–period! We seldom see an officer when we call on drugs in the park or vagrants shooting up in their campgrounds visible for all the public to see. The feeling is that these people should not be “criminalized” that they just need a roof over their heads.
One day, we asked a female APD officer to cite two “homeless” drug addicts with needles in their arms shooting up next to Home Depot: individuals she could see from her car. She replied that she didn’t have time to do that or she wouldn’t have time for real crime. But these incidents are crimes, and they turn into even bigger crimes if left unaddressed. Later we learned that APD had been told to step down when dealing with the “homeless.” (I am in the process of trying to find out through OMI if there was a homeless woman who died in that same location this past Sunday as reported.)
APD does arrive promptly when we call about someone actively stealing wire from electrical boxes, and APD does use our photos in court. But how absurd is this picture! Has the situation gotten so bad that WOMEN are the ones having to do the active police work in the parks, on the streets and in our neighborhoods? Where are the police? Better yet, where is our City Councilor, Don Harris? Is he part of the problem? Our constituents are actually doing HIS work and he is the one who is getting paid by the City, and for what? For building a second city-owned building over a Puebloan and pre-Territorial Spanish archeological site donated to the city for safekeeping by a Four Hills neighbor, in a park called Singing Arrow Park, which is listed on the state and national registers of historic/cultural properties because he feels that this sacrifice of an archaeological site will help alleviate the homeless situation in east ABQ. This future building is also under the rubric of “Community Centers” under “Family & Community Services” to be used for “social purposes” for which citizens are being asked to vote in more bond monies. It’s a park for crying out loud, that is supposed to be run by Parks & Recreation. Didn’t we think at one time we needed Parks and Open Space? Soon we will have a park, we are told with eight showers. Lovely!
What we know is that the problem here in ABQ is not with the “homeless.” In the 3 years that I have been walking the streets of Central to assess the problem and trying to help, I have only encountered 2 truly homeless individuals in need of housing—which we have helped. The people on our streets are chronic drug users—they make their own meth in the parks from easily obtained or stolen products from nearby stores. (Unlike heroin, I am told that there are no detox methods for meth addicts. Yet they are chronically addicted and must feed this habit.) The others on the streets are felons who have been released (having never been kept in jail) to find or reestablish their own pathways back on the street. Two weeks ago, we turned in two individuals stealing wire (with photos) in Singing Arrow Park near Central and Tramway. The man was apprehended blocks away and was taken off in handcuffs and later released. Both were back on Central and Wyoming 8 days later.
It is difficult for us to believe (because we’ve asked) that the city will have any success building anything new to house the homeless or transporting street drug vendors and users of drugs to shelters because everyone who works to clean up our streets and parks knows that these drug-addled people do NOT want to go to a shelter. They call these shelters “jail,” even when they are not located in a jail. They prefer what they call “camping out.” Many are afflicted by mental illness with fears of confined spaces. They simply want us to leave them alone. They want their freedom and their tax-payer needles and cheap street meth. Nurses make concierge visits on the street once a week, and the drug addicts make their health appointments at Zuni to replenish their needle supply–not to get clean or to get shelter. Shelter is of NO concern to them as long as they are free to live in the canyons, alleys, vacant property, and parks of Albuquerque with food provided or stolen. They simply expect and are allowed to permanently reside in parks and public spaces.
And here is the backlash: neighbors are starting to ask and demand from our city that APD start enforcing park rules of “no camping after 10 pm. and no drug or alcohol use on the premises.” Wow, that would be a tactical start. We have only the city and APD to blame for these failings.
Another problem: The city doesn’t require ID for any of the street-people, even when the non-profits issue them temporary motel vouchers that Albuquerque advertises on a website for the homeless. When will that stop? IDs are easy to obtain, and should be required by the Big 5 non-profits giving out all the free motel vouchers, bus passes, EBT cards and products for the homeless. Requiring IDs of all motel guests would be a good City Ordinance to adopt. How would you feel if you had paid $100 per motel room in ABQ and were not told that you might be staying next door to a “homeless” person (usually a group stays in the room when it is issued) and that those individuals had no IDs because they had criminal records? I know of these facts because one paying guest had his upstairs room shot up by a “homeless” person discharging his gun multiple times in the room below. The paying guest did not feel safe. And no one does staying at a motel anywhere in Albuquerque with these uncertainties.
Then there was the break-in of a motel room where the motel owner called the police and the police arrived; but because the intruders were “homeless,” they could not be arrested because the police had been told to “stand down” on the “homeless.” I know that because I was in the lobby waiting to talk to the owner when the police arrived. It helps to know what really goes on along the streets when you are agitating for law enforcement. People must surely know that we cannot sit by hoping that someone, somewhere is in control of the situation and that things will get better. Things will NOT improve until citizens make noise, or use their power of the ballot regarding the unlimited, unplanned spending desires of this city without proper enforcement.
Back to IDs. How about requiring IDs before any individual is resupplied with a free, handful of needles? How about requiring non-profits and health care organizations to track or document those individuals and the needles they distribute? How about requiring the agency issuing the needles to retrieve those needles and account for them before they can issue more? Would they be more responsible if they were required to collect them?
One year ago, The Women sent a letter to Mayor Keller about the problem everyone was labeling as a “homeless” problem. We asked him to view the YouTube film “Seattle is Dying.” At the end of that exposé is a short piece on how a town in New Jersey turned a jail into a drug rehabilitation center for people formerly on the streets. It is a tremendously successful program. (Former drug addicts have told us something similar when we were on the streets–about UNM’s rehab program.)
October 22, Mayor Keller announced that he would begin to set up “social services” including drug rehabilitation programs at the West-side Shelter (the former detention center 20 miles outside of ABQ) where “homeless” individuals are transported back and forth from ABQ to spend the evenings. Currently, the jail has room for 700, but only 300 shelter there even during the coldest period of our winters.
Wow—what a novel plan! One that we have been advocating for a year now and something we told Mayor Keller’s Deputy Director for the ‘Homeless’ Lisa Huval when we sat down with her this past summer. We told her that it was a waste of money to close that facility just because it was too far out of town and the “homeless” don’t want to go there. It costs four and a half million-dollars to run that center per year and $1 million of that cost is for transportation. In short, the total cost to run the Westside Shelter (a cost that we already know) is one-fourth of the minimum amount estimated for a new facility in town in an area that is unknown to the public.
The Westside Shelter solves several issues: the NIMBY (Not in my backyard) problem where residents don’t want a “homeless” shelter in their neighborhood; citizen taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for a new $12-20-million building; and the 20-mile distance would be a bonus instead of a handicap where the isolation would be free of distractions and allow individuals to focus on the end goal of rehabilitation. The real complaint I hear is that providers don’t want to drive that far out of town. But it seems that Mayor Keller has the backing of our hospital providers. (See KKOB article in postscript)
The facility already has food service and plenty of space for exercise. In reality, there is no need for a $21-million ballot vote for acquiring “city-owned community centers including those for families, youth, senior citizens, the homeless, and for other community enhancement projects” under that rubric. The devil is in the open-pocket book and general language that the City Council uses to “repurpose” bond money.
The reason people are voting NO on every bond question is that they have been stung. We’ve seen what happened in 2011 and 2013 and specifically in 2015 when City Councilor Don Harris sponsored a bill to allow Council to “repurpose bond money.” And “we” voted in favor of that bill to allow “City Council” to rewrite and “repurpose” bond money. So we have ourselves and Don Harris to blame. Is it any wonder that the voting tax-payers vote against bonds in any amount and for any proposal now, when the city can “repurpose” them, allowing Councilors to spend designated bond money however they wish? Trudy Jones (I am not in her district) was the only councilor who objected to such generalities of language when it came to proposed funding on the ballot and spending it when it came up during the City Council meetings. The irony is not overlooked by the taxpayer. Citizens are tired of exact amounts proposed for ideas without plans, locations, programs or accountability. That is the reason so many people vote NO when it comes to any ballot question regarding bonds. They are tired of illicit spending on bricks and mortar and hoping someone shows up.
I cannot underscore the fact that we do not need to support a new, unidentified homeless center without fully exploring all the resources the city currently owns and operates at minimal capacities.
And there really is no tactical plan needed for APD until APD is allowed to enforce the laws already on the books that will help them identify the truly homeless from the drug dealers, gang members, petty thieves, murderers, and other criminals. Investigative reporters need to identify who is preventing these laws from being enforced. Specifically, who issued the order to APD to stand down on the “homeless” (a vague catch-all, do-nothing term) in the parks and on the streets? Wouldn’t it be nice to know where the buck stopped?
I, or any one of our members in Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods (WTBON) would be glad to go out on the streets with a news reporter to give people of ABQ a look at reality. Maybe call the weekly report “Transient Tuesday” and ask the folks on the streets where they are from, why they come to ABQ, how much money they make on the streets, and just how cold a day in hell it would have to be before they consented to being transported free of charge to a homeless shelter. Albuquerque has a big street drug business, not a homeless issue on the streets. And no amount of bond money for a homeless shelter is going to solve the issue of crime on the streets until APD starts enforcing the laws and we start “repurposing” the city-owned buildings we have already built.
If we can’t get the one Tiny Home Village for 30 up and running effectively, what makes us think we will be successful building something new for 300. We already have 700 beds (400 available any day of the week) in the Westside Shelter the city owns and operates. Until the city gets its financial act in order, and the police are allowed to do their jobs, citizens and taxpayers don’t need to keep voting for more bond money when no one at the city can prove They Will Come.
First-Time Ever Services at West Side Homeless Shelter
Posted on October 23, 2019 Radio KKOB.com
ALBUQUERQUE’S WEST SIDE EMERGENCY HOUSING CENTER IS NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, EXPANDED TO PROVIDE A COORDINATED APPROACH TO HOMELESSNESS. HOMELESS PEOPLE CAN NOW USE THAT FACILITY TO GET MEDICAL CARE, TREATMENT FOR ADDICTION AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, JOB PLACEMENT AND CASE MANAGEMENT SERVICES.
ALBUQUERQUE MAYOR TIM KELLER SAYS INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS ARE NEEDED IF WE’RE TO ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS IN THE CITY, WHICH IS INCREASING HERE AND IN OTHER CITIES ACROSS THE U-S.
THE WEST SIDE SHELTER NOW HAS THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER, PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL AND ABQ HEALTH CARE FOR THE HOMELESS PROVIDING MEDICAL SERVICES TWO DAYS A WEEK. IT ALSO HAS CASE MANAGEMENT SERVICES BEING PROVIDED BY CENTRO SAVILA, FUNDED BY BERNALILLO COUNTY. JOB PLACEMENT OPPORTUNITIES ARE BEING PROVIDED BY WORKFORCE CONNECTIONS