On June 13, KRQE News 13 published the following news report:
“Some downtown Albuquerque residents are asking the city for help after a group of homeless people moved in and set up an encampment right next to their homes off 7th Street near Lomas Blvd. Neighbors say their problem began two weeks ago when one homeless person moved into a residential alleyway between Marble Avenue and Granite Avenue.
“I honestly didn’t know this alley existed until I started seeing them wandering in and out,” said Damian Montoya whose home is on 7th street near the encampment. Montoya says the alleyway is perfectly tucked away for anyone looking to set up camp… and for the past two weeks, neighbors say what started as a single person living there, has now quickly grown. “There was one and then there were three and the last time I counted I think it’s up to nine people that are living back there,” Montoya said.
According to Montoya, he’s been told residents are responsible for keeping the alleyway clear, but as their newfound problem grows… Montoya says they need help.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The alleyways described were originally intended to be used by the city for garbage pick up, emergency access and to afford rear access to property and is private property which is why property owners have the responsibility for cleanup and maintenance of the alleyways. “No Trespassing Signs” and “No Camping Signs” need to be posted in the alleyways.
Hoping to address the problem, Montoya and other neighbors say they’ve reached out to the city, but to no avail. “I called 911 and everybody else has been calling 311, 242 cops and nothing has happened,” said Montoya. Montoya says at one point he even tried taking matters into his own hands by confronting one of the men living in the alleyway. “When any neighbor confronts them about getting out of the alley they threaten you. A guy brandished a knife when I asked him to leave the premises,” said Montoya.
Montoya says he did call the police about the incident, but says he was told unless this was a life-or-death situation, the Albuquerque Police Department wouldn’t send out an officer. Now, Montoya and neighbors say they’re concerned about living with the encampment so close to their homes. They say they hope something can be done about the growing problem. “It just seems like the homeless problem gets worse and worse every year, it’s a mental health issue but they need to provide these people with some sort of service to get them out of whatever situation they’re in, but being in a residential street is not cool,” Montoya said.
Montoya says he’s also seen people living in the encampment dealing drugs, he says he hopes the city will clear out and block off the area to prevent any future encampments from popping up. KRQE News 13 has reached out to the city for comment. APD says in situations like these, unless the people are trespassing all they can do is ask them to leave.
The link to the KRQE news story is here:
Homeless camp pops up in downtown Albuquerque neighborhood (krqe.com)
CITY PROCESS IN PLACE TOP DEAL WITH HOMELESS ENCAMPMENTS
There are multiple steps the city follows when there are no law enforcement sweep actions or tactical plans to deal with homeless encampments. When an encampment is reported and a complaint is filed, the Family and Community Services Department and Albuquerque Community Safety Department 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 the homeless are given a full 72 hours to clear the area of their personal property and belongings. The 72 hour notice is an arbitrary and made up policy by the city. 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 homeless campers simply move back in.
The city has one “encampment team” made up of seven people. Their job is to respond to reported encampments set up on public property, and give the people living there the written “notices to vacate.” 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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
This news story is so very wrong on so many levels. It reveals just how feckless the Keller Administration has become when dealing with the city’s homeless crisis. It is also a disturbing element revealing APD’s unwillingness to protect the public. When APD says in situations as described in the news story, unless the people are trespassing, all they can do is ask them to leave is false and it reveals APD’s unwillingness to do its part in enforcing the existing laws. When a person brandishes a knife as was described, that constitutes a 4th degree felony. When people living in the encampment are seen dealing drugs in the encampments, it become a law enforcement issue.
Unlawful encampments anywhere in the city demand immediate orders to vacate to protect the general public. The city’s policy to deal with homeless encampments is to give 72 hour “Notice to Vacate.” The city’s 72 hour “Notice To Vacate” Policy is a made up and subjective policy. Such 72 Hour Notices to Vacate are not required under any city ordinance nor state law with any person who is not a lawful tenant.
Ostensibly, the 72 hour “Notice to Vacate” has some origins under the New Mexico Uniform Owner-Resident Relations Act which outlines the rights, duties and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. A link to read the act is here: https://www.aanm.org/new-mexico-uniform-owner-resident-relations-act
Squatters do not pay rent and have no property rights.
The Uniform Owner-Resident Relations Act does have notice to terminate and vacate provisions and a 72 hour nonpayment of rent provision but unlawful squatters have no leases or rental rights under the Act. Giving unlawful squatters 72 hours to vacate an unlawful encampment is giving squatters the right to violate the law for a 72-hour period which is absolutely insane. The 72 hour “Notice to Vacate” is unacceptable and should be suspended immediately.
The city claims the only time it can immediately clear out a camp is if it is putting the campers or community members in danger. That is simply not true. The city can rely on its nuisance abatement laws and declare encampments a public nuisance. Civil enforcement and code actions can also be taken.
Keller can use the inherent authority of his office and issue executive orders to clean up and remove unlawful encampments. Ostensibly Keller is reluctant to do just that out of fear of being accused of being insensitive to the plight of the homeless as his administration spent $40 million in 2022 and will spend $60 million in 2023 to provide assistance to the homeless. What Keller now risks is being insensitive to the needs of the general public and to public safety.
Being homeless is not a crime, but that does not mean they should be allowed to violate the law. APD must not ignore enforcing the city’s anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance abatement laws and criminal laws, nor pretend they do not exist to accommodate the homeless.
If Mayor Keller and for that matter Chief Harold Medina do not want law enforcement involved with enforcing the laws when it comes to the homeless, then that responsibility should be assumed 100% by the Albuquerque Community Safety Department, which should issue immediate orders to vacate to any person who is unlawfully camping. Any refusals to immediately vacate should be met with swift law enforcement action and arrests by APD if necessary.
The city does offer options. The city has the West Side 24-7 homeless shelter that can be offered where the homeless can be taken to and camp. Another option is the new Gibson Gateway Center. The city also has on contract up to 10 service providers that need to do more.
Unlawful encampment homeless squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers from the city or alternatives to living on the street and want to camp at city parks or in alleys and streets really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” and force them to move on or be arrested by APD.