On Sunday, June 19, the Albuquerque Journal published an editorial on the City Council’s and Mayor Keller’s recent enactment and support of “Safe Outdoor Spaces” to deal with the homeless and to provide city sanctioned homeless encampments. Following is the entire, unedited editorial followed with further Dinelli commentary and analysis:
HEADLINE: 18 MORE CORONADO PARKS? Sanctioned encampments are supposed to clean up city, not sacrifice areas
BY ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD
PUBLISHED: SUNDAY, JUNE 19TH, 2022 AT 12:02AM
UPDATED: SUNDAY, JUNE 19TH, 2022 AT 12:15AM
“Sometimes the unvarnished truth just seeps out.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon unrelated to the bland topic of the presser, Mayor Tim Keller made a stark acknowledgement when asked about the latest homicide at the city’s troubled Coronado Park.
“It is not lost on me that we created Coronado Park because Wells Park said, ‘We don’t want these folks in our neighborhood,’ and we agree with them,” the mayor said. “And that’s why they were all grouped to one area.”
So, there it was. The mayor said out loud what people who live and work near Third and Interstate 40 have complained about for years: Their neighborhood park was sacrificed to a tent city plagued by violence, drugs and filth to save another neighborhood.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Keller continued. “You want to close Coronado Park, you are going to open all of Wells Park neighborhood to something none of us want to see.”
Um, that’s not what the public was told when the City Council pushed through its “safe outdoor spaces” encampments plan. That proposal was pitched as the only way to be able to clean up cesspools like Coronado Park and get the unhoused off the sidewalks, out of the arroyos and parks and into sanctioned encampments with basic security, improved sanitary conditions and a path to services and more permanent housing.
It was not sold as a way to move the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The deplorable conditions at Coronado Park preceded Keller’s administration, though the pandemic and troubled economy have certainly exacerbated the number of people struggling with homelessness. And it has fallen on this city administration to finally address them.
After a long and contentious meeting on June 6 the Albuquerque City Council paved the way for sanctioned encampments, euphemistically termed “safe outdoor spaces,” in an attempt to get a grip on the homeless situation. The update to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance, adopted by a 5-4 vote, adds safe outdoor spaces as a new use in certain nonresidential and mixed-use zones.
We’re officially told the safe outdoor spaces will be managed sites, up to two in each of the nine council districts, where people can sleep in tents or automobiles over the long-term while waiting for motel conversions or affordable housing. Each would have on-site restrooms and shower facilities.
Some city councilors say the city will be better able to enforce loitering, trespassing and overnight camping laws throughout the city if it has designated spaces for the homeless.
But until Tuesday we were apparently not given all the facts. Keller’s unbridled candor revealed that for years the homeless have essentially been funneled to Coronado Park like cattle through a chute and the city premeditated its surrender of the neighborhood to lawlessness.
So with up to 18 “safe outdoor spaces” now on the table, the public deserves to know: How many more neighborhoods will be sacrificed? And will replicating versions of Coronado Park be allowed?
Just last week a 33-year-old man was fatally shot there. It’s unclear if Andrew Aguilar lived at the unsanctioned encampment, but he was there at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, and it’s where he died.
Aguilar’s slaying was the fourth homicide at or within a block of Coronado Park since 2019. No telling how many beatings, rapes and drug deals have gone down there, but the cleanup costs tell part of the story.
Every other week taxpayers’ foot the $27,154 bill for a multi-department team to temporarily clear and clean the park — and that’s not even a deep clean. How many discarded needles are buried and missed? It would take rotary tilling and a Hazmat team with metal detectors to make the park safe to use.
The sanctioned camp amendment bans registered sex offenders. But who’s going to enforce that? The same people who don’t enforce widespread illegal camping, that’s who.
Meanwhile Coronado Park’s homeless move a block or two away during the cleanups but immediately return in a perpetual game of cat-and-mouse. Others do drugs on the sidewalk or sleep under tarps along Third.
Open fires on sidewalks and in the park are not rare. And while there are homeless folks camping in every quadrant of the city, the Coronado Park neighborhood has become what Keller succinctly describes, the de facto location for everything negative that goes along with the desperate, lawless life of living on the streets: “Something none of us want to see.”
The mayor says along with the much-hyped Gateway Center shelter, safe outdoor spaces can help address homelessness. Great — but we repeat our qualified support that these are supposed to be clean and safe and in place of sleeping in parks, on sidewalks and in doorways, ditches and alleys; not filthy and dangerous and in addition to.
It’s not OK for anyone to live in squalid conditions on public property with the city’s OK — even if they want to.
We need to offer the unhoused safe and sanitary places to live temporarily while they get their lives in order, like the Westside Emergency Housing Center, the Gateway Center and Bernalillo County’s Tiny Home Village.
No one would want anyone they cared about living in or near the danger zone that is Coronado Park. We certainly don’t need 18 more of the same.
The link to the Albuquerque Journal editorial is here:
THE FEDERAL HEARTH ACT
In May 2009, Congress passed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing commonly known as the HEARTH Act. It is the the largest source of funding for homeless assistance programs and grants for city, county and state governments. The HEARTH Act accelerated the shift from temporary housing shelter to a “Housing First” policy. Housing First focuses on helping people experiencing homelessness get into permanent housing as quickly as possible, rather than conditioning permanent housing on sobriety, treatment, employment, or other milestones.
The HEARTH Act helped entrench federal support for Housing First and expanded the availability of permanent housing beyond people experiencing chronic homelessness to families, youth, and nondisabled, single adults. It authorized funds for rapid re-housing assistance to help people move into permanent housing and increase their incomes so they can remain housed without a long-term subsidy.
HEARTH expanded the definition of who should be considered homeless to include people at imminent risk of homelessness, previously homeless people temporarily in institutional settings, unaccompanied youth and families with persistent housing instability, and people fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence.
The HEARTH Act provides that in order to receive federal dollars, cities must adopt a “housing first” policy and, crucially, that homeless organizations had to work together in “continuums of care” under a single lead agency, coordinating their programs and sharing data. The federal government had recommended these continuums of care since 1994, but not until the Hearth Act was funding tied to specific metrics of effectiveness.
Links to quoted news source material are here:
“Five Ways the HEARTH Act Changed Homelessness Assistance”
“How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets Into Homes of Their Own”
The City of Albuquerque has adopted the Housing First policy as mandated by the HEARTH Act in order to secure federal funding.
On May 16, the Albuquerque City Council voted to approve the 2022-2023 fiscal year city budget which will begin on July 1,2022 . The 2022-2023 approved city budget provides major funding of upwards of $60 Million to deal with the homeless. Included in the adopted budget is funding for Safe Community programs that deal with issues such as substance abuse, homelessness, domestic violence and youth opportunity. Following is a listing of approved funding:
• $24 million in Emergency Rental Assistance from the federal government, which the City will make available in partnership with the State.
• $4 million in recurring funding and $2 million in one-time funding for supportive housing programs in the City’s Housing First model. In addition, as recommended by the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force, the budget includes $100 thousand for emergency housing vouchers for victims of intimate partner violence.
• $4.7 million net to operate the City’s first Gateway Center at the Gibson Medical Facility, including revenue and expenses for facility and program operations.
• $500 thousand to fund Albuquerque Street Connect, a program that focuses on people experiencing homelessness who use the most emergency services and care, to establish ongoing relationships that result in permanent supportive housing.
• $1.3 million for a Medical Respite facility at Gibson Health Hub, which will provide acute and post-acute care for persons experiencing homelessness who are too ill or frail to recover from a physical illness or injury on the streets but are not sick enough to be in a hospital.
• Full funding for the Westside Emergency Housing Center which is operated close to full occupancy for much of the year. On October 23, 2019, it was announced that Albuquerque’s West Side Emergency Housing Center was expanded to provide a coordinated approach to homelessness. The homeless use that facility to get medical care, treatment for addiction and behavioral health, job placement and case management services. The west side shelter now has the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Presbyterian Hospital and Alburquerque 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.
• $500 thousand to fund the development of a technology system that enables the City and providers to coordinate on the provision of social services to people experiencing homelessness and behavioral health challenges.
The Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes the following funding for Safe Community programs:
• $1.8 million to develop what will be Albuquerque’s only medical substance abuse facility dedicated to youths likely housed at the Gibson Health Hub.
• Full funding for the Violence Intervention Program that deals with both APD and Family & Community Services departments, including the first phase of School-Based VIP in partnership with APS.
• $736 thousand to fully fund the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program.
• $730 thousand for a partial year of operation of a Medical Sobering Center at Gibson Health Hub, which will complement the social model sobering facilities available at the County’s CARES campus.
• Full funding for service contracts for mental health, substance abuse, early intervention and prevention programs, domestic violence shelters and services, sexual assault services, health and social service center providers, and services to abused, neglected and abandoned youth.
The link to the enacted 2022-2023 proposed budget is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Political commentator Pete Dinelli and the Albuquerque Journal are often at odds as to how they see things, but when they do agree, it’s usually on positions that affect the City of Albuquerque or the conduct of elected officials. The June 19 Journal Editorial is one of those occasions when they agree. The JournAL Editorial essentially repeats identical arguments Pete Dinelli has made in recent blog articles about “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. The Journal arguments merit further discussion.
KELLER ACKNOWLEGES CORONDO PARK
Mayor Keller admitted that he and his Administration condoned and supported Coronado Park being used as a “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment even though its a public park and camping is illegal. The Journal noted “the homeless have essentially been funneled to Coronado Park like cattle through a chute and the city premeditated its surrender of the neighborhood to lawlessness” when he said at a June news conference:
“… It is not lost on me that we created Coronado Park because Wells Park said, ‘We don’t want these folks in our neighborhood,’ and we agree with them. And that’s why they were all grouped to one area. … So you also got to remember the alternative. You can’t have it both ways — you want to close Coronado Park, you are going to open all of Wells Park neighborhood to something none of us want to see.”
The Journal editorial continues:
“Every other week taxpayers foot the $27,154 bill for a multi-department team to temporarily clear and clean the park — and that’s not even a deep clean. How many discarded needles are buried and missed? It would take rotary tilling and a Hazmat team with metal detectors to make the park safe to use. … Meanwhile Coronado Park’s homeless move a block or two away during the cleanups but immediately return in a perpetual game of cat-and-mouse. Others do drugs on the sidewalk or sleep under tarps along Third. Open fires on sidewalks and in the park are not rare. And while there are homeless folks camping in every quadrant of the city, the Coronado Park neighborhood has become what Keller succinctly describes, the de facto location for everything negative that goes along with the desperate, lawless life of living on the streets … ”
The violent crime history of Coronado Park has been reported as has the monthly cost of cleanup. Simply put Coronado Park needs to be condemned by city council as a public nuisance.
Link to Dinelli blog article “Another Murder At Coronado Park; Park Is Symbol Of Tim Keller’s Failure To Deal With Homeless Crisis; City Council Should Declare Coronado Park A Public Nuisance, Enact Resolution Calling For Permanent Closure And Fencing Off With A Rededication Of Purpose”
KELLER AND COUNCIL’S GOAL IS TO CREATE TENT CITY’S, NOT PERMANENT HOUSING
According to the Journal editorial, the City Council pushed through the Safe Outdoor Space amendment “as the only way to be able to clean up cesspools like Coronado Park and get the unhoused off the sidewalks, out of the arroyos and parks and into sanctioned encampments with basic security, improved sanitary conditions and a path to services and more permanent housing. … It was not sold as a way to move the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
The truth is Keller’s and the City Council’s real goal is to create “tent” city’s. On
May 16 it was reported on www.PeteDinelli.com that city purchased tents were being proposed for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. The link to the blog article “City Purchased Tents Proposed For “Safe Outdoor Spaces”; “Tent City’s” Will Destroy City’s Permanent Housing Efforts; Scant Evidence Found On How Permanent Homeless Shelters Affect Surrounding Community; Safe Outdoor Spaces Will Make City “Land of Encampments” is here:
On June 9, it was reported that city officials were laying out more details about what Albuquerque’s upcoming Safe Outdoor Spaces could look like in coming months. According to the report, the city wants to have a “safe outdoor space” up and running by the end of the summer. Two church congregations have shown interest in providing Safe Outdoor Space.
Elizabeth Holguin, the deputy director of Homeless Solutions in Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services Department, had this to say about the city’s plans to going forward with Safe Outdoors Spaces:
“… Usually the site will provide meals, there’s always bathrooms and hand washing stations, sometimes showers, sometimes Wi-Fi is provided, there’s a whole gamut of options that could happen with enough resources. … Just as in anybody’s home you know what they do in their tent is their business. … However, there is no drug dealing, no sort of transactions at all or any display of paraphilia in the common space. … Having the safe outdoor spaces would give that extra … layer of protection for the police department to be able to more definitively say you know ‘you want to camp, you can’t camp here, this is where you can camp now.”
It is clear from the city’s articulated plans as voiced by Elizabeth Holguin that “Safe Outdoor Spaces” are not temporary with “ bathrooms and hand washing stations, sometimes showers.”
Link to Dinelli blog article “Devil In The Details On Safe Outdoor Spaces; “Tent City” Is City’s Real Goal; First Encampment Expected By End Of Summer; Tell Council To Vote No On June 22 To Safe Outdoor Spaces”
NEIGHBORHOODS AND PARKS ARE AT RISK
The Journal editorial asks:
“[W]ith up to 18 “safe outdoor spaces” now on the table, the public deserves to know: How many more neighborhoods will be sacrificed? And will replicating versions of Coronado Park be allowed?”
It was on April 18, 2021 that www.PeteDinelli.com reported that it was first reported 5 Safe Outdoor Spaces were proposed in all 9 City Council Districts and that they had the potential of being Coronado Parks. The council later reduced the number to 2 in each council district for a total of 18. According to the April 18 blog article:
The City Council amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance will allow … sanctioned homeless campsites in each of the city’s 9 city council districts, with … sanctioned campsites spread throughout the city, and allowing 40 tents, cars or recreational vehicles in each campsite … This is the best example of elected officials’ good intentions that will go awry making a crisis even worse. … sanctioned campsites, coupled with $59,498,915 million in spending for the homeless, will likely have the unintended consequence of making Albuquerque an even bigger magnet for attracting the homeless to the city.
Any city councilor or any member of the general public that thinks … city sanctioned campsites with upwards of 40 occupants spread throughout the city is somehow “good idea” need to have their head examined. All they need to do to realize this is a very bad idea is to take a tour of the Coronado Park located near I-40 and 2nd street. As of April 17, the public park has upwards of 60 tents with the homeless wondering the park and the surrounding area.
The link to the blog article “City Sanctioned Homeless Encampment Coming To Open Space Area Near You!; City Council To Allow 45 Homeless Camps For 1,800 Homeless And Allowing Up To 40 Tents; Councilors Need Their Heads Examined And Tour Coronado Park” is here
The answer as to the Journal’s question of “how many more neighborhoods will be sacrificed” is provided by a map prepared by the city detailing where “safe outdoor space” zoning would be allowed for encampments. The map reveals numerous areas in each of the 9 City Council districts that abut or within walking distance or are actually in many residential areas.
The map reveals a large concentration of eligible open space area that lies between San Pedro and the railroad tracks, north of Menaul to the city’s northern boundary. The map includes open space owned by the city. The map does not account for religious institutions that may want to use their own properties for living lots or safe outdoor spaces.
The link to the map prepared by the City entitled “Map 1 Council Districts Selected IDO Zoning” is here:
The map of eligible open space for Safe Outdoor spaces includes open space owned by the city. What is also clear is that Coronado Park is evidence that the city has the authority and ability to convert any city park into a homeless encampment if it so desires without city council approval nor any public input.
Link to Dinelli blog article “City Councilor Brook Bassan At Worst Lies, At Best Misleads, Constituents By Making Guarantees She Can’t Keep On Location Of “Safe Outdoor Spaces” And North Domingo Park”
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES VIOLATES “HOUSING FIRST” POLICY
The Journal editorial says:
“The mayor says along with the much-hyped Gateway Center shelter, safe outdoor spaces can help address homelessness. Great — but we repeat our qualified support that these are supposed to be clean and safe and in place of sleeping in parks, on sidewalks and in doorways, ditches and alleys; not filthy and dangerous and in addition to.”
Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a much larger return on investment than offering government sanctioned encampments such as “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. What Mayor Tim Keller has done with his support of city sanctioned “Safe Outdoor Space” homeless encampments is to undercut the policy of shelter and housing first policy mandated to secure federal funding under the HEARTH Act.
If the City Council and Mayor Tim persist in going down the road of allowing 18 “safe outdoor spaces”, it will be a major setback for the city and its current policy of seeking permanent shelter and housing as the solution to the homeless crisis.
The city has likely not revealed if it has disclosed its plans for Safe Outdoor Spaces in federal grant applications to help the homeless. Mayor Tim Keller and the City Council allowing city sanctioned “Safe Outdoor Space” homeless encampments more likely than not will place into jeopardy federal funding under the HEARTH Act resulting in grant funding being denied
THEY JUST DON’T GET IT
Too many elected and government officials, like Democrat Mayor Tim Keller, and Democrat City Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelkorn and Republican City Councilors Brook Bassan and Trudy Jones who want to establish government sanction encampments have a hard time dealing with the fact 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 government rules and no regulations.
CITY MEETING MORAL OBLIGATION TO HOMELESS WITHOUT SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
The city has a moral obligation to help the homeless, especially those who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction. The city is in fact meeting that moral obligation. Albuquerque is making a huge financial commitment to help the homeless. Last year, it spent upwards of $40 million to benefit the homeless in housing and services. The 2023 proposed budget significantly increases funding for the homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. The city contracts with 10 separate homeless service providers throughout the city and it funds the Westside 24-7 homeless shelter.
The city has bought the 572,000-square-foot Lovelace Hospital Complex on Gibson for $15 million that currently has space of 200 beds or more and transforming it into the Gateway Center Homeless shelter. City officials have said that the city is expected to launch multiple services on the property this winter, including a 50-bed women’s shelter, a sobering center and a space designed to deliver “medical respite” care for individuals who would have no place other than a hospital to recover from illnesses and injury.
The massive facility could be remodeled even further to house the homeless and convert offices, treating rooms, operating rooms and treatment rooms into temporary housing accommodations. The onsite auditorium and cafeteria could also be utilized for counseling and feeding programs for service providers.
LAW ENFORCMENT MUST PLAY ROLE IN DEALING WITH HOMELESS
The city cannot just ignore and not enforce its anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance 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” anywhere they want and force them to move on. After repeated attempts to force them to move on and citations arrests are in order.
The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city, but it can and must be managed. Providing a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve themselves, bathe and sleep at night with rules they do not want nor will likely follow is not the answer to the homeless crisis. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around, become productive self-sufficient citizens, no longer dependent on relatives or others.”
Given the millions the city is spending each year, it needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.
COUNCIL CAN RECONSIDER
On June 22, the City Council has the option to reconsider their vote on the Integrated Development Ordinance and vote on the Safe Outdoor Space resolution being prepared by the Family and Community Services Department. Reconsideration of the Integrated Development Ordinance would require at least one city councilor who voted for the IDO to change their vote. Those city Councilors who voted NO were Democrats Klarisa Pena, Louie Sanchez and Republicans Dan Lewis and Renee Grout. This means Republicans Trudy Jones or Brook Bassan, and Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelkorn would have to move to reconsider and change their vote on the Integrated Development Ordinance and the Safe Out Door Space amendment.
The public needs to make their opinions known and tell Mayor Keller and the City council to reject Safe Outdoor Spaces at the June 22 city council meeting. The email address to contact Mayor Keller and Interim Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael and each City Councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows:
PRTOEST ANNOUNCED BY WOMEN TAKING BACK OUR NEIGHBORHOODS
“Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” (WTBON) is a citizen activist group founded in 2018 in the Albuquerque South East Heights to inform the public and demand greater accountability from elected and other civic leaders for preventing crime on Central Ave., in neighborhoods, and in public parks.
WTBON has announced a protest to be held on Tuesday June 21. The following press release was issued:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” (WTBON) will be meeting on the corner of Academy and Eubank, Tuesday, June 21, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, to protest the City of Albuquerque’s Council vote to institutionalize “Safe Open Spaces” and Motel Conversions in the City’s Zoning Code. The public is invited to stand with us.
As proposed, the city could designate two “Open Space” lots for each district, for a total of 18 lots in the city, and an untold number of motel conversions for unvetted homeless individuals coming to Albuquerque for the social benefits provided by the Family and Community Services Dept. The concept has never been brought to citizens for a vote, and the city does not have a plan of action in place, nor a budget for its implementation, which will be a tremendous amount of money as yet undefined which tax-payers will be responsible for. Considering the failure of the Tiny Homes to attract drug-free, homeless individuals to the campus, a city plan of 18 “Safe Open Spaces” will be another disastrous idea by the City that forces taxpayers to foot the bill and live with the consequences of crime to businesses and neighborhoods, decreasing property values and new residents, and reducing tourism.
WTBON urges all City Councilors to vote NO for Safe Open Spaces and Motel Conversions.”