On July 25, in a speech before the very Republican leaning New Mexico chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Parks (NAIOP), Mayor Tim Keller announced closure of the unsanctioned homeless encampment at Coronado Park. The closure will occur at the end of the month. City officials said that upwards 120 people camp nightly at the park. Homeless occupants will be told of other housing options offered by the city. The city will continue to offer services and housing options to those using Coronado Park, including making limited property storage available to those who are interested or in need of it.
Keller had told the group of commercial and real estate developers and said this in a statement:
“[The]situation is absolutely unacceptable, so we’re going to stop it. In August we’re closing Coronado Park. … It doesn’t matter if we know exactly what we’re doing next. It doesn’t matter exactly what the timing is or how we’re going to do it, but we have to do better than what’s happening at Coronado Park. There is a bed for every person [who stays at Coronado] to go. … The status quo will not stand … This remains a complex issue and while we work to determine what’s next for Coronado, we’ll keep stepping up to get folks connected to the right services and resources. …
We’re very concerned about what’s going to happen in the neighborhoods, but at this point now, it’s a question of what is worse — looking the other way at violence, at homicide, at rampant drug use, or trying to deal with the problem a different way. … It has reached the breaking point where even if it’s creating other problems and other brush fires, we’ve got a better chance dealing with that than we do letting this go.”
Chief administrative officer Lawrence Rael said the city could start posting flyers of the pending closure as early as this week and that the city will alert the homeless squatters of available services and other housing options.
Rael had this to say:
“Homelessness at Coronado has been a challenge for nearly a decade, but we have to draw a line and simply stop a situation that is obviously unacceptable, regardless of what we do next.”
Carol Pierce, Director or Family and Community Services, had this to say:
“The city is committed to finding solutions that work for people who are unhoused but also keep our neighborhoods safe. … The administration has made sure that critical resources like housing vouchers and shelter beds are more available than they were in the past. Now it’s time to move forward so that we can reach safe, humane outcomes for our city.”
During a City Council meeting in June, City Councilors were told that an analysis done by the Department of Family and Community services which administers the city’s homeless programs, identified 369 open beds across nine local shelters on a single night in June. 215 beds were at the city’s West Side facility. A major problem is that many homeless people simply do not want to go the Westside Shelter because it is remote, far from other services, and used to be an old jail facility.
Coronado Park has served as a centralized drop-off and pickup site for the West Side Emergency Shelter for nearly a decade. During the COVID-19 pandemic, park regulations were relaxed as a mitigation measure. Conditions at the park deteriorated, including narcotics trafficking, drug use and prolonged damage to the park’s irrigation and vegetation created safety concerns and were the leading factors in the decision to close the park.
Links to quoted news source material are here:
ENVRONMENTAL HEALTH STUDY OF CORONADO PARK
City officials saying prolonged damage to the park’s irrigation and vegetation created safety concerns and were the leading factors in the decision to close the park ostensibly confirms that an environmental health study or ground testing has been performed.
Confidential sources within APD have said that an environmental health study or ground testing was performed either by the APD crime lab or the city’s Environmental Health Department on the Coronado Park grounds. According to the APD source, the study revealed a highly toxic level of contaminates, including drugs, human waste and fluids and dangerous levels of molds to the extent that the park grounds are dangerous and where exposure can affect a person’s health.
According to the APD source, a final report was provided to the Mayor’s Office and APD Chief Harold Medina and once reviewed, orders were issued that the study was not to be released to the general public for fear that the City would have to permanently close the park. Upon information and belief, a request for Inspection of Public records has been made by media outlets for the Coronado Park environmental study, but no response by the city has been reported by those news outlets.
CORONDO PARK SYMBOL OF FAILURE TO DEAL WITH HOMELESS
Mayor Keller’s decision to close Coronado Park was a dramatic reversal from just a few months ago when he gave excuses why he could not close Coronado Park. It was an astonishing admission of failure when Mayor Tim Keller said this about Coronado Park:
“[The federal courts] will not allow us to just walk in and arrest someone because they’re homeless and the current situation beats the alternative. … 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.”
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Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park became the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day. City officials have said it is costing the city $27,154 every two weeks or $54,308 a month to clean up the park only to allow the homeless encampment to return.
Residents and businesses located near the park complain to the city repeatedly about the city’s unwritten policy to allow the park to be used as an encampment and its use as a drop off by law enforcement for those who are transported from the westside jail. At any given time, Coronado Park has 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area.
One major factor in closing the park is crime. Criminal activity has spiked at the park over the past three years. The city park has an 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. APD reports that it was dispatched to the park 651 times in 2021 and 312 times thus far in 2022. There have been 16 stabbings at the park in the past 2 and in the past 30 days APD has seized from the park 4,500 fentanyl pills, more than 5 pounds of methamphetamine, 24 grams of heroin and 29 grams of cocaine. APD also found $10,000 in cash. All the seized drugs were tied to a single bust in late June that occurred at a nearby motel, not the park, though an APD spokeswoman said the suspect was “mainly doing all their distributions [at the park].”
The links to quoted news sources are here:
The city announced it will continue to consider the next steps for Coronado Park, ranging from permanent closure, eventual re-opening as a park, or repurposing it for piloting a safe outdoor space program. Until that time, the park will remain closed, and transportation will shift to centralized, multi-site routing for those needing transport to shelter and services.
WALKER PROPERTY ANNOUNCED AS RECREATIONAL AREA FOR WELLS PARK NEIGBORHOOD AREA
The city also announced the opening of a green space and recreational area on an entire block known as the Walker Property, adjacent and north of the Wells Park Community Center. The project is fully funded and in the final design stages with work getting under way next year. The Wells Park area will also see stepped up patrols from the Clean City Program in response to the closure of Coronado Park.
It was on September 2, 2007, that it was reported that the entire block of 21 residential homes and businesses between 5th and 6th and Summer and Rosemont streets were demolished by the city. All the structures were boarded up and abandoned and often used by squatters and the homeless and criminals.
The entire block of vacant homes were all owned by 86-year-old Anne Davis Walker. The demolition, which took just a day, cost the city $189,000, which Davis Walker paid back within a year.
The demolition of all 27 structures was negotiated by then Deputy City Attorney and Safe Strike Force Director Pete Dinelli. Simply put, Walker understood it she would have spent a lot more money rehabbing each structure to bring them up to code and fighting condemnation lawsuits. The property is directly north of the Wells Park Community Center and was later purchased by the city at a cost of approximately $1.8 million.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Grouping the homeless, as Keller said, in a city park should never have been considered as an option to deal with the homeless crisis given all the resources the city is spending to help the homeless. This so called “grouping” coming from a mayor who for his entire first term made dealing with the homeless crisis a corner stone of his administration. A Mayor whose administration spent $40 million in 2022 and will spend $60 million in 2023 to provide assistance to the homeless. A Mayor who saw to it that the city purchased the 529,000 square-foot Lovelace Hospital facility on Gibson for $15 million to have it converted into a Gateway Shelter and who made the westside shelter a 24-7 facility.
It was disingenuous for Keller to say just a few weeks ago “[The federal courts] will not allow us to just walk in and arrest someone because they’re homeless and the current situation beats the alternative. … .“The current situation at Coronado Park does not beat the alternative of having a zero tolerance of allowing illegal encampments and allowing the homeless to squat all over the city and not enforce the law.
It was Mayor Keller who allowed a once beautiful and pristine park dedicated to public use to become a festering blight on the community. Simply put, Coronado became an embarrassment with the city violating its own ordinances and nuisance laws by allowing overnight camping and criminal conduct in the park thus creating a public nuisance both under state law and city ordinance. Coronado Park became the symbol of Keller’s failure as Mayor to deal with the homeless crisis and now he has to deal with a nuisance property he created.
On July 6 Mayor Tim Keller announced that his administration was “revisiting” its policies on how it addresses homeless encampments that are increasing in number throughout the city. Keller wants to initiate major changes by the end of July on how to deal legally with homeless encampments. Closure of Coronado Park is a good first step.
What is so very disappointing is that Mayor’s Keller’s announcement took everyone by suprise and was even labeled a “bombshell” announcement by more than on media outlet. It was as if he was in a rush to make the announcement before a Republican business group in order to make headlines. He told no one else about it, including the neighborhood area of Wells Park, other homeless care providers in the city, nor the city’s Mental Health Response Advisory Committee which advises the city on issues related to chronic homelessness. Keller himself admitted there is no real plan in place on how to deal with the closure of the park, which if true, is sloppy at best.
Mayor Tim Keller is to be commended for coming to his senses after a full 4 years and exercising his authority to issue executive orders to clean up and remove unlawful encampments and permanently close Coronado Park. Closure of Coronado Park is a good first step in announcing a new approach to the city’s homeless crisis. Now comes the real hard part to come up with a viable plan that will not make things worse for the area and the city.
The links to quoted news sources are here: