Coronado Park is considered by many as the heart of Albuquerque’s homeless crisis. Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park has essentially become a “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day.
At any given time, Coronado Park will have 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area. It comes with and extensive history lawlessness including drug use, violence, murder, rape and mental health issues. In 2020, there were 3 homicides at Coronado Park. In 2019, a disabled woman was raped, and in 2018 there was a murder. Police 911 logs reveal a variety of other issues. In February 2019, police investigated a stabbing after a fight broke out at the park. One month before the stabbing, police responded to a call after a woman said she was suicidal, telling police on lapel camera video that she had previously made attempts to overdose on meth.
On Thursday, April 22, KRQE News 13 ran a story entitled “Albuquerque cleans up encampment at Coronado Park, homeless move back in” as reported by George Gonzales. Following is the transcript of the news story:
“The city of Albuquerque says the largest encampment in the city, Coronado Park, is sprawling with tents and homeless individuals. Crews were clearing it out and cleaning it up, just so the homeless campers could move right back in.
“The main point in cleaning it out is it’s a public health hazard if we continue to leave that trash in the park and sit. So, the goal is to strike a balance between public safety and compassion in having these people have a place to stay,” said Family and Community Services Public Outreach Program Manager, Rob Garnand.
“The Family and Community Services Department says cleaning up Coronado Park is a priority in order to prevent disease and outbreaks as well as to provide some level of hygiene to people living in the encampment. While camping in parks is illegal, the city is not writing citations as they do from time to time in other parks around town. Instead, they’re focusing on providing people living in the encampment with resources. However, the city’s says the problem is most people don’t accept the help. So whenever the encampment is cleared, the people return with their tents.”
“We notify them of shelter spaces and the response that we get a lot of times is that they don’t want to go to the shelter so that’s kind of the situation we are in right now in the city. They list different reasons, they tend to throw back on us a lot, have you ever stayed in a shelter?” said Garnand.
The city says they are doing the best they can to keep the area clean. The city is also working on a plan to designate empty lots around town as places for encampments. Those lots would have to be next to nonprofits that help the homeless. They would have bathrooms and security and they would not be allowed next to parks or within 300 feet of residential neighborhoods.”
The link to the KRQE News 13 story is here:
The link to the YOUTUBE story is here.
The city sweep of Coronado park resulted in most if not all of the homeless moving their camp sites to the vacant lot where the Interstate Inn was located just south of Coronado park. The Interstate Inn was torn down in 2008. According to news reports at the time of the teardown, the Interstate Inn was a crime magnet. There was as many as 16 sex offenders all living at the Interstate in 2005 in addition to the constant drug busts. The Interstate Inn was a 2-story, 3 building motel complex that was condemned as being substandard and a nuisance and torn down by the City Safe City Strike Force.
ZONING CODE AMENDMENTS
On Wednesday, April 13, the City Council’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee (LUPZ) met to consider two separate amendments updating the city’s 2017 enacted Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) that regulates residential zoning development throughout the city. Two amendments were approved by the committee and 2 public hearings have been scheduled for both on April 26 by ZOOM.
The amendments are:
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES (A12)
This amendment is for zoning changes that will allow city sanctioned “safe outdoor spaces”, also called “government sanctioned homeless campsites” where the homeless will be able to sleep and tend to personal hygiene. Not more than 5 sanctioned campsites will be allowed in any one of the city’s 9 city council districts, or 45 total campsites, and the campsites would be limited to 40 tents, cars or recreational vehicles. Ostensibly, a minimum 1,800 homeless city wide will be allowed to select the camp they want to use. The math is as follows: 5 sanctioned campsites times 9 council districts equals 45 times 40 tents, cars or recreational vehicles equals 1,800.
CONVERSIONS FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING (A2)
This amendment would relax the rules when converting nonresidential properties, such as hotels or offices, to residential use. This amendment proposes to eliminates a requirement that each unit must have a full kitchen, namely an oven or cooking stove. It would permit a microwave or hot plate as an alternative, but only if the city is involved in the conversion project by providing affordable housing money.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Two public hearings on both amendments are scheduled for Tuesday, April 26 by ZOOM. The notice, times and links to the meetings can be found in the postscript to this blog article.
ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL WEIGHS IN
On April 24, 2022, the Albuquerque Journal published a John Trever Editorial Cartoon he entitled “LAND OF ENCAMPMENT” to accompany an editorial entitled “Pitching a tent-cities plan, Sanction encampments worth a pilot project-if they lead to the removal of unsanctioned camps” .
JOHN TREVOR EDITORIAL CARTOON
The Trevor cartoon is entitled “LAND OF ENCAMPMENT”. The cartoon had two homeless campers with backpacks hitchhiking along a highway into Albuquerque. A sign to their left said ALBUQUERQUE NEXT 15 EXITS. A sign to their right said “LODGING” and below that appeared the lodging accommodations “TENT TOWN”, “KAMP KAWANAS”, “TENTPOLE CITY”, “PITCH IT PLACE”, “BIVOUAC VILLAGE” and “CAMPSAFEPLACE”. One homeless person is quoted as saying to another “I HEAR THE HOUSING MARKET IS REALLY TIGHT HERE!”
ALBQUERQUE JOURNAL EDITORIAL
On Sunday, April 25, the Albuquerque Journal published its editorial entitled “Pitching a tent-cities plan, Sanction encampments worth a pilot project-if they lead to the removal of unsanctioned camps”. Following are portions of the editorial worth noting:
“A City Council committee has advanced an amendment to the zoning code permitting up to 45 encampments in certain commercial, business park, manufacturing and mixed-use zones.
Unsanctioned homeless encampments have become de facto, even though sleeping in city parks, camping on freeway embankments and doing your dirty business on sidewalks are all illegal.
The amendment offered [to the Integrated Development Ordinance] … would cap the number of sanctioned encampments citywide at 45, with no more than five in any one of the city’s nine council districts, and limit the size of each to 40 tents, cars or recreational vehicles. Each would be required to have a certain number of water-flush or composting toilets, hand-washing stations and showers, with a surrounding wall or screen at least 6 feet high for sites with tents. Operators, which could include churches and nonprofit organizations, would have to offer some form of social services and support facilities.
… [A] U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2018 on an anti-camping ordinance in Boise, Idaho, states cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough shelter beds available for their homeless populations.
…[City Councilor Pat Davis] says Albuquerque lacks the number of shelter beds to be able to enforce widespread illegal camping and [the] amendment would let the city crack down on non-sanctioned camping.
Sanctioned encampments are worth exploring if, in fact, they would replace the non-sanctioned camps that have sprung up along streets, on sidewalks and in vacant lots and parks. That is a big “if.”
The city initiative comes as liberal-run cities across the United States are increasingly changing course and clearing out non-sanctioned homeless camps.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has used emergency powers to ban camping along certain roadways; Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser launched a pilot program last summer to permanently clear several homeless camps; and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell ended a standoff with activists by removing two blocks of tents from nearby City Hall. The Los Angeles City Council has used new laws to ban camping in 54 locations. Voters in left-leaning Austin, Texas, last year reinstated a ban that penalizes those who camp downtown and near the University of Texas, in addition to making it a crime to ask for money in certain areas and times.
It’s clear the city needs to do something. And sanctioned encampments may well be part of the solution.
But going from no sanctioned encampments to allowing 45 seems a big jump. Why not start with a pilot program with a scaled-back number of camps?
Sanctioned camps offer the homeless basic security, much improved sanitary conditions and a connection to services, unlike the makeshift camps whose neighbors have suffered long enough. If they truly replace the unsanctioned camps, they would be a major step forward. But there is no benefit if they simply in addition to the current unsanitary and unsafe camps.
Whether sanctioned encampments clean the city up, attract more homeless or wind up underutilized like Bernalillo County’s Tiny Homes Village must be studied if the safe outdoor spaces proposal moves forward.
And the biggest unanswered question is still what will the city do with squatters who have no interest in the offers of shelter beds, motel vouchers or tent spaces?
The link to the full editorial is here:
The blunt truth is that Coronado Park has been the Albuquerque’s “de facto pilot project” for homeless encampments for the last 10 years with city officials offering services to the homeless who camp there and repeatedly cleaning up the park. Coronado park shows that sanctioned encampments do not work. If the Albuquerque Journal editors truly believe that a “pilot program” is needed and that “sanctioned encampments may well be part of the solution”, the Albuquerque Journal should offer the use the Journal Center area with its well-manicured lawn areas and open space for a city sanctioned homeless encampment pilot project.
The proposed zoning code amendment says the campsites would be permitted in certain “commercial, business park and manufacturing zones and in some mixed-use zones”, which means the Journal Center would qualify. Charitable organizations or service providers could lease vacant property in such areas, set up the camps and then deliver their services to the campers, including transportation, using the city Sun Van services.
ALBUQUERQUE’S HOMELESS NUMBERS
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines sheltered homeless as “residing in an emergency shelter, motel paid through a provider or in a transitional housing program.” HUD defines “unsheltered homeless” as “those sleeping in places not meant for human habitation including streets, parks, alleys, underpasses, abandoned buildings, campgrounds and similar environments.”
Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
On June 22, 2021, Albuquerque’s 2021 Point-In-Time (PIT) report was released that surveyed both sheltered and unsheltered homeless.
Major highlights of the 2021 PIT report are as follows:
There were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque, a slight increase over the 2019 count of 1,524 homeless. The 2020 homeless count is 2.8% higher than in 2019 and 18.9% more than in 2017, despite the pandemic limiting the 2021 counting effort’s.
The 2021 PIT count found that 73.6% of the homeless population was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” locations. The 73.6% in the 2021 count is much a higher than the 2019 and 2017 PIT counts.
Albuquerque’s unsheltered homeless decreased from 567 people in 2019 to 413 in the 2021 count.
42% of Albuquerque’s unsheltered were defined as chronically homeless, meaning they had been continuously homeless for at least a year and had a disabling condition.
21% said they were homeless due to COVID.
37% were experiencing homelessness for the first time.
12% were homeless due to domestic violence.
30.19% of the homeless in Albuquerque self-reported as having a serious mental illness.
25.5% self-reported as substance abusers.
The link to quoted statistics is here:
CITY’S HEAFTY FINANCIAL COMMITMENT TO HELP HOMELESS
Albuquerque is making a huge financial commitment to help the homeless.
This past fiscal year 2021 ending June 10, 2021, city hall and the Keller Administration have spent upwards of $40 Million by the Family and Community Services Department to benefit the homeless or near homeless. The 2021 adopted city budget for Family and Community Services Department spent $5,688,094 for emergency shelter contract , spent $22,531,752 for affordable housing and community contracts, spent $3,384,212 for homeless support services contracts, spent $4,329,452 for mental health contracts and spent $2,586,302 for substance abuse contracts for counseling contracts.
The link to the 2021-2022 city approved budget is here:
Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 proposed budget significantly increases the Family and Community Services budget by $24,353,064 to assist the homeless or near homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. The 2022-2023 proposed budget for the Department of Community Services is $72.4 million and it will have 335 full time employees, or an increase of 22 full time employees.
A breakdown of the amounts to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance is as follows:
$42,598,361 total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for chronically homeless. It is $24,353,064 more than last year. (Budget page 101)
$6,025,544 total for emergency shelter contracts (Budget page 102.), down $396,354 from last year.
$3,773,860 total for mental health contracts (Budget page105.), down $604,244 from last year.
$4,282,794 total homeless support services(Budget page 105.), up $658,581 from last year.
$2,818,356 total substance abuse contracts for counseling (Budget page 106.), up by $288,680 from last year.
The link to the proposed 244-page 2022-2023 budget it here:
“TENT CITY, USA”
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is a national legal group dedicated to ending and preventing homelessness. It works to expand access to affordable housing, meet the immediate and long-term needs of those who are homeless or at risk, and strengthen the social safety-net through policy advocacy, public education, impact litigation, and advocacy training and support.
In 2017, The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty released a study entitled “TENT CITY, USA The Growth of America’s Homeless Encampments and How Communities are Responding” with the link here:
In 2018, the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty released a study entitled “Welcome The Rise of Tent Cities in the United States” with the link here:
The following was gleaned from the studies prepared the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:
Tent cities have been reported in the majority of states, 46 of 51 jurisdictions (including the District of Columbia). Of all of these, only 8 encampments had a legalized status. Three more were moving in that direction, meaning that through municipal ordinance or formal agreement, the tent city had been sanctioned by the community and was either allowed to self-govern or was created by service providers working with the city. Ten tent cities had at least a semi-sanctioned status, meaning that although not formally recognized, public officials were aware of the encampments and were not taking active steps to have them evicted.
“In the past decade, documented homeless encampments have dramatically increased across the country. Research showed a 1,342 percent increase in the number of unique homeless encampments reported in the media, from 19 reported encampments in 2007 to a high of 274 reported encampments in 2016 [the last full year for data], and with 255 already reported by mid 2017, the trend appears to be continuing upward. Two thirds of this growth comes after the Great Recession of 2007-2012 was declared over, suggesting that many are still feeling the long-term effects.
Unique homeless encampments were reported in every state and the District of Columbia. California had the highest number of reported encampments by far, but states as diverse as Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, and Virginia each tallied significant numbers of reported encampments.
Half the reports that recorded the size of the encampments showed a size of 11-50 residents, and 17 percent of encampments had more than 100 residents.
Close to two-thirds of reports which recorded the time in existence of the encampments showed they had been there for more than one year, and more than one-quarter had been there for more than five years.
Three-quarters of reports which recorded the legal status of the encampments showed they were illegal; 4% were reported to be legal, 20% were reported to be semi-legal (tacitly sanctioned)
This increase in encampments reflects the growth in homelessness overall, and provides evidence of the inadequacy (and sometimes inaccessibility) of the U.S. shelter system. The growth of homelessness is largely explained by rising housing costs and stagnant wages.
Municipalities often face pressure to “do something” about the problem of visible homelessness. For many cities, the response has been an increase in laws prohibiting encampments and an increase in enforcement.
[A survey of ] the laws and policies in place in 187 cities across the country … found:
33% of cities prohibit camping city-wide, and 50 percent prohibit camping in particular public places, increases of 69% and 48% from 2006-16, respectively.
50% have either a formal or informal procedure for clearing or allowing encampments. Many more use trespass or disorderly conduct statutes in order to evict residents of encampments.
Only five cities (2.7% ) have some requirement that alternative housing or shelter be offered when a sweep of an encampment is conducted.
Only 20 (11%) had ordinances or formal policies requiring notice prior to clearing encampments. Of those, five can require as little as 24 hours’ notice before encampments are evicted, though five require at least a week, and three provide for two weeks or more. An additional 26 cities provided some notice informally, including two providing more than a month.
Only 20 cities (11 percent) require storage be provided for possessions of persons residing in encampments if the encampment is evicted. The length of storage required is typically between 30 and 90 days, but ranged from 14 to 120 days.
Regional analysis found western cities have more formal policies than any other region of the country, and are more likely to provide notice and storage.
Using the criminal justice system and other municipal resources to move people who have nowhere else to go is costly and counter-productive, for both communities and individuals. …
Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a larger return on investment.
Other cities spend thousands of dollars on fences, bars, rocks, spikes, and other “hostile” or “aggressive” architecture, deliberately making certain areas of their community inaccessible to homeless persons without shelter.
Many communities state they need criminalization ordinances to provide law enforcement with a “tool” to push people to accept services, such as shelter. Conducting outreach backed with resources for real alternatives, however, is the approach that has shown the best, evidence-based results.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign found permanent housing for more than 100,000 of the most “service-resistant” chronically homeless individuals across America by listening to their needs and providing appropriate alternatives that actually meet their needs.
Most cities in the United States have insufficient shelter beds for the number of people experiencing homelessness; in some cities, the shortage is stark.
So when law enforcement tells residents of encampments to go to a shelter, they risk finding the shelter full. Even where shelter beds are open, they are not always appropriate, or even adequate, for all people.
Many shelters are available only to men or only to women; some require children, others do not allow children. Some do not ensure more than one night’s stay, requiring daily long waits in line- sometimes far from other alternatives.
The survey of 187 cities found only 10 of these cities have explicitly permitted some form of legalized camping. Encampments are not an appropriate long term solution to homelessness or the nation’s affordable housing crisis.
In order to be successful, legalized encampments require a tremendous amount of planning, consultation, and collaboration with all stakeholders, most especially the homeless residents of the encampment. In many cases, this time and effort may be better spent developing other interim or permanent housing solutions.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The city’s 2021 Point-In-Time (PIT) report found that there were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque, a slight increase over the 2019 count of 1,524 homeless. It also found Albuquerque’s unsheltered homeless decreased from 567 people in 2019 to 413 in the 2021 count. It is the “unsheltered homeless”, or between 413 to 667 homeless that the campsites will likely be used by, yet the council wants to provide campsites to accommodate 1,800 adults.
The city does have a homeless crisis and for that reason the city and the county are spending millions a year in addressing the homeless crisis. Many who want to establish government sanction encampments have a hard time dealing with the facts that many homeless adults simply want to live their life as they choose, where they want to camp for as long as they can get away with it, without any government nor family interference and especially no rules.
Government sanctioned homeless encampments will only encourage those who seek such encampments to continue with their lifestyle living on the streets. Providing a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve themselves, maybe even bath and sleep at night with rules they do not want nor will likely follow is not the answer to the homeless crisis.
It is the actual services that are being provided to the homeless that are critical to solving the homeless crisis. City sanctioned homeless camps will defeat any real progress being made by the city. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and lodging, and mental health care and counseling needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around and become productive citizens and be self-sufficient and no longer dependent on others.
PERMANENT SHELTERS NEEDED, NOT TENT ENCMAPMENTS
Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a much larger return on investment than offering government sanctioned encampments. If that is the case, the city is making significant progress in managing our homeless crisis. The city is doing it the right way. Given the millions the city is spending each year and what the city is building, the city needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.
The City of Albuquerque has at least 10 separate homeless service provider locations throughout the city and the Westside 24-7 shelter. The city will be spending upwards of $60 Million to help the homeless this next fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2022.
It was on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the city officially announced it had bought the massive 572,000-square-foot Lovelace Hospital Complex on Gibson for $15 million and will transform it into a Gateway Center for the homeless and the complex will be only 1 of 3 multisite homeless shelters being planned. The emergency shelter and services hub is slated to provide overnight beds for 50 women by year’s end. The city has also said it could eventually host up to 100 adults and 25 families at a time.
The 572,000-square-foot complex could likely accommodate far more shelter space if properly planned and remodeled. Former hospital patient rooms with bathrooms and showers, as well as offices and treating rooms could be remodeled into temporary housing facilities.
NOT A CRIME TO BE HOMELESS
What is happening in Albuquerque is that the homeless are becoming more and more visible to the public by their camping anywhere they want and for as long as they can get away with it. The problem is complicated when the city, and for that matter private property owners, do not intervene with aggressive action to remove encampments.
Camping on public property is not allowed but people experiencing homelessness have constitutional rights. The blunt truth is being homeless is not a crime and arresting and jailing is not a solution.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and city workers have in the past done “sweeps” of unsheltered people from parks, sometimes arresting them, citing them for trespassing or loitering and taking and disposing of their property. APD is limiting its enforcement of trespassing and vagrancy laws relying on citations as opposed to making arrests as a result of federal litigation.
Alleged seizures of property and identification records of the homeless by APD likely violates the 2017 settlement agreement in the federal case of McClendon v. Albuquerque, which prohibits Albuquerque police from seizing or disposing of property or personal identification unless they are “authorized by law.” The point of the lawsuit was that police were arresting and incarcerating so many people that the jail was severely overcrowded with the settlement meant to reduce the number of people in jail. To that end, it also prohibits Albuquerque police from even asking for identification if they have reason to believe that the person is mentally ill or homeless.
PROCESS IN PLACE
The process the city has in place to deal with homeless encampments is a long process from when the city gets a complaint about a homeless camp to when it gets cleared out, if it ever gets cleared out. That needs to changed immediately and more can be done.
There are multiple steps the city follows when no law enforcement sweep actions happen. When an encampment is reported and a complaint filed, the Family and Community Services Department and Albuquerque Community Safety sends outreach providers to speak to the people to see what services they might want and what services can be offered.
After the assessment, written “notices to vacate” are issued and people have 72 hours to clear the area of their personal property and belongings. The camps are then cleared by the city, but it does not always stay that way. Neighbors, and area property owners and the homeless population are stuck in a vicious cycle of filing 311 reports and calling APD and filing complaints and getting camps cleared out, then the camps moving back in.
The city claims the only time the city can immediately clear out a camp is if it is putting the campers or community members in danger. That is not the case if the city relies on its nuisance abatement laws and declares encampments on city property nuisances and the Mayor orders clean up and removal. The city does have the west side 24-7 homeless shelter which is located 20 miles outside the city and located in the old vacated jail that can be offered and where the homeless can go.
The city has one “encampment team” made up of seven people. The encampment teams should be increased to at least 4 that can patrol the streets and take action on a daily basis. Their job would be to respond to reported encampments set up on public property, and give the people living there “written notice” that they have to go. Once their time is up, the encampment team checks in to make sure the people have in fact moved. Once the encampment has been vacated, the city cleans up whatever is left behind at the camp which includes many times trash and needles for elicit drug use.
The city cannot just ignore and not enforce its anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance abatement laws and criminal laws nor pretend they simply do not exist. Squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers or alternatives to living on the street really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” and forcing them to move on.
NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARINGS BY ZOOM
On April 20, the Albuquerque City Council published and emailed the following notice for 2 separate ZOOM hearings with links to attend:
“City Council staff is offering two opportunities to provide a review of amendments already passed by the Land Use, Planning and Zoning committee in addition to any new amendments the City Council may consider at their May 2nd meeting, pertaining to the Integrated Development Ordinance (I.D.O.)
Both meetings are on Tuesday, April 26th at 12pm and 5:30pm via ZOOM.
Safe Outdoor Spaces (A12) and Conversions for Affordable Housing (A2) provide ways to provide safe areas and increase the availability for much needed housing and services.
ZOOM Links for April 26
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Meeting ID: 892 6958 2954
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5:30 P.M. SESSION:
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