On Wednesday, August 18, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference, along with city other city officials, in front of a vacant, clean up and fenced off Coronado Park and made the announcement that Coronado Park was officially closed to the public making good on a promise he made on June 27 to close the park by the end of August.
Mayor Keller said the closure of Coronado Park does not represent “any kind of a comprehensive strategy” to resolve homelessness crisis. Keller said this:
“The actions taken today by the City of Albuquerque are made necessary by the threats to public health, safety and the environment that this encampment has created. … Let no one think, however, that these actions represent a comprehensive strategy for resolving the problem of what we commonly call the homeless in Albuquerque or anywhere else in America.
I know that burden is on me as your mayor, I know that, but it’s also on everyone else in this community. … That means the homeless themselves, that means every provider involved, that means everyone complaining about this on social media, we’ve all got a role to play. And it is not just to complain about the problem. …
Mayor Keller added that the yearslong “status quo” and public safety risks at the park including drug and human trafficking to those who lived at the park and those who provided them services had become “no longer acceptable.”
Between 75 to 120 people would camp out nightly at the park at Third Street and Interstate 40. By Tuesday, August 17 when the park was officially closed and after weeks of what the city has called “intensive outreach” the number was down to 30 to 40 and 15 subsequently accepted transportation to a shelter.
It has now been reported that a very large percentage of the Coronado Park homeless suffer from mental illness and/ or drug addiction. Many homeless simply refuse “shelter housing” offered by the city, including the shelter housing in the west side 24-7 facility. Virtually none of the individuals who were displaced from Coronado Park will be placed at the Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter in that it has yet to be made fully operational. Notwithstanding the Gateway Shelter use has been scaled down and will only house 50 woman who are victims of domestic violence.
CORONADO PARK HOMELESS OUTREACH SURVEY
On August 27, the Albuquerque Journal published on its front page, above the fold story with the headline “Most Coronado homeless remain on the streets” and the sub headline “Survey shows many have acute physical, mental disorders”. The link to read the full article is here:
The Journal reported that as the city began the month-long process to close and clean up Coronado Park, the Family and Community Services Department dispatch “outreach workers” to conduct a survey of all the homeless living in the park to identify their needs and concerns and make plans to assist and place them. The city released the survey to the Albuquerque Journal after an Inspection of Public Records (IPRA) request was made for the survey.
SURVEY CONDUCTED BY ABQ STREET CONNECT
Quoting the Albuquerque Journal article:
“The survey was conducted on behalf of the city by ABQ Street Connect, a program within Heading Home that provides individualized, housing-focused services and case management to individuals who suffer from severe mental illnesses and who are experiencing chronic homelessness.
The city had earlier reported that 110 people at the park had been surveyed, but when the final analysis was completed, it discovered that some of the individuals had been surveyed more than once, creating duplicate responses, requiring that the final number be revised.
StreetConnect identified 28 individuals with acute needs due to physical, mental, intellectual or “brain-related issues”. The most common disabilities reported included PTSD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and orthopedic issues.
StreetConnect was able to get 27 of the park’s former residents started on the pathway for housing.”
The survey results as reported by the Journal are as follows:
More than 57% of the 94 homeless people who agreed to be surveyed said that upon Coronado’s closure, they would simply find another park or street location to sleep at night.
19% said they would go to another park.
38% said they would find someplace on the streets.
22%, or less than a quarter, said they would likely go to a sanctioned shelter.
65% of the homeless surveyed said they would be willing to stay at Coronado Park even if rules and security measures were put in place.
More than 75% of the survey respondents identified housing as their No. 1 priority. Mayor Keller said when he announced the closure of the park, there were shelter beds, mostly at the city’s emergency shelter on the far West Side, available for park residents’ use. Journal interviews with those staying at the park revealed little interest in going to a shelter.
Nearly 14% said they are getting benefits and having income was their top priority, particularly Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance.
18 of the survey respondents accepted vouchers that allow them to stay from days to weeks in motels that are working with StreetConnect.
At least one respondent wound up at Heading Home’s Albuquerque Opportunity Center, enrolled in a program that is intended to break the cycle of homelessness.
Another person was provided a one-way bus ticket to Las Vegas, Nevada, after case workers confirmed that the person had family there.
Some respondents identified more than one need. In descending order of priority these included:
- Health care
- Employment and
MENTALLIY ILL AND DRUG ADDICTION
Jodie Jepson, the executive director of StreetConnect that did the survey, said the majority of the individuals who made Coronado Park home are individuals with severe mental illnesses and who are experiencing chronic homelessness. Jepson also said a majority of the former Coronado Park residents also have alcohol or drug addictions, although that question was not part of the survey.
According to Jepson, the severe mental and physical issues among the chronically homeless “make them unable to enter the workforce.” Consequently, she said, getting them into permanent housing is the first step to dealing with their myriad problems. Jepson said this:
“They are not in housing right now, but we are currently working with them on triage and assessment [which is the first step toward securing housing]” .
Jodie Jepson did not take issue with Mayor Keller’s decision to close Coronado Park. She noted that it was the park had too many regular incidents of violence and abuse, particularly against women. In addition, she said, the park had become a “biohazard safety concern” because of a large number of cases of shigella bacterial infection among the homeless residents there.
Shigella bacteria cause an infection called shigellosis. Most people with a shigella infection have diarrhea, sometimes bloody discharge, fever, and stomach cramps. People become infected with Shigella by eating food or drinking liquids contaminated by an infected person. Touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their mouth or putting a contaminated object into their mouth.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH STUDY
Jodie Jepson’s disclosure that Coronado Park had become a biohazard safety concern because of a large number of cases of shigella bacterial infection among the homeless residents was the very first time anyone publicly disclosed to what extent the park had been contaminated.
Confidential sources within APD said two months ago 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 were 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.
The link to the full and unedited Albuquerque Journal article is here:
THE CITY’S HOMELESS NUMBERS
The ABQ Street Connect survey results, although only involving 94 homeless, reflects a striking similarity with the statics revealed in the city’s 2021 Point In Time Survey of the homeless.
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).
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.”
According to the most current PIT annual report, there were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque. The 2021 PIT count found that 73.6% of the homeless population were staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” locations.
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 efforts.
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.
Note that a whopping 55.69% combined total of those surveyed self-reported as having a serious mental illness or were substance abusers.
Homeless providers consistently say the City has upwards of 5,000 homeless or near homeless. The city has upwards of 10 homeless service providers on contract and many of those 5,000 are already being provided with services. The real challenge is to convince that portion of the 5,000 who absolutely do not want any kind of services or help of any kind.
The link to quoted statistics is here:
CITY’S FINANACIAL COMMITMENT
The Keller Administration has adopted a housing first policy when it comes to dealing with the homeless crisis which also includes funding provided to at least 10 service providers .
This past fiscal year 2021 ending June 10, 2021, the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration have spent upwards of $40 Million to benefit the homeless or near homeless. The 2021 adopted city budget for Family and Community Services Department provides for mental health contracts totaling $4,329,452, and substance abuse contracts for counseling contracts totaling $2,586,302 and emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,688,094, affordable housing and community contracts totaling $22,531,752, homeless support services contracts.
The link to the 2021-2022 city approved budget is here:
Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 approved 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. A breakdown of the amounts to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance contained in the 2022-2023 budget is as follows:
$3,773,860 total for mental health contracts (Budget page105.)
$2,818,356 total substance abuse contracts for counseling (Budget page 106.), up by $288,680 from last year.
$42,598,361 total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for chronically homeless.
$6,025,544 total for emergency shelter contracts (Budget page 102.).
$4,282,794 total homeless support services, up $658,581 from last year.
The link to the 2022-2023 budget it here:
The 2022-2023 adopted city contains $4 million in recurring funding and $2 million in one-time funding for supportive housing programs in the City’s Housing First model and $24 million in Emergency Rental Assistance from the federal government.
APD CRIMINAL LAW ENFORCMENT ACTIONS AGAINST HOMELESS
The City and the Albuquerque Police Department have adopted a “criminal citation” approach rather that and “arrest and confine” approach to deal with the homeless and the nonviolent felony crimes they commit. The main cause of this approach is the settlement of the federal case McClendon v. City of Albuquerque.
The McClendon case was a class-action lawsuit filed on January 10, 1995 in the United States Federal District Court by detainees at the Bernalillo County Detention Center (BCDC) in Albuquerque. The class-action lawsuit alleged that gross overcrowding and racial discrimination at the jail violated the constitutional rights of inmates.
In 2017 the city entered into a Stipulated Settlement Agreement in the McClendon federal case where the city agreed that people accused of nonviolent misdemeanors will not be arrested where there is no circumstances requiring an arrest. The primary reason for the settlement was to prevent jail overcrowding and it had absolutely nothing to do with or how the homeless are treated.
When it comes to “homeless crimes”, meaning illegal camping, criminal trespassing and loitering, those offenders are not to be arrested as the “primary intervention”. Under the settlement terms, police still have the option to issue citations and still have the discretionary authority to make felony and misdemeanor arrests as they deemed appropriate and where the circumstances warrant.
During the June 22, 2021 meeting of the Albuquerque City Council, a city attorney explained the federal pressures the city is operating under. The city attorney cited federal cases arguing that they place limitations on the city and he said this:
“[When it comes to] ‘quote, unquote’ homeless crimes, those offenders are not allowed to be arrested as a primary intervention”.
The APD adopted policy is Standard Operating Procedure 2-80-1 which states in part:
“Police Department policy is to arrest a felony violator of laws which its officers are empowered to enforce. Officers shall issue citations when appropriate in lieu of arrest on non-violent misdemeanor offenses (not to include DWIs) when there are no circumstances necessitating an arrest. In all cases, officers shall follow correct legal procedures required in arresting, booking, and filing charges against such violators.”
“HOMELESS” MISDEAMENOR CRIME CASES ARE OFFICER PROSECUTED CASES
The criminal misdemeanor citations issued by APD police can only be given when a police officer actually witnesses the offense. All such misdemeanor criminal citations are strictly officer prosecuted cases except DWI cases. What this means is that when it comes to the “homeless crimes” of illegal camping, criminal trespassing and loitering, those cases are prosecuted by police officers in Metro Court and do not involve prosecutors from the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office nor the Albuquerque City Attorney’s office.
KOB 4 contacted APD and asked them to quantify how they are enforcing the law when it comes to the low-level, nonviolent offenses committed by the homeless. An APD spokesman told KOB that since the beginning of 2022 there have been issued 2,308 citations to the homeless and it has issued 614 trespassing notices with 3 trespassing stops revealing outstanding warrants.
When the homeless fail to show up for arraignments on the citations, bench warrants are issued by the Metro Court or a very large number of criminal citations wind up being dismissed because APD officers does not show to prosecute the cases.
Since the beginning of 2022 there have been issued 2,308 citations to the homeless and it has issued 614 trespassing notices with 3 trespassing stops revealing outstanding warrants. APD and the Albuquerque Community Safety Division that relies on social workers with outreach to the homeless can assume the responsibility to identify those homeless and drug addicted who are criminal offense repeat offenders.
3 SPECIALTY COURTS
There are two Bernalillo County Metropolitan “specialty courts” already in existence known as “Outreach Court”, formerly named Drug Court, and the “Veterans Court” that deal in one form or another with the mentally ill and/ or the seriously drug addicted who are homeless providing support services. The courts place an emphasis on diversion programs, counseling programs, providing medical and mental health assistance and to some extent housing. Both courts involve to some extent the disposal of pending criminal charges without incarceration and instead probation.
The “Metro Outreach Court” is the formerly known “Drug Court” specialty court that deals with those charged with misdemeanors and who suffered from drug addiction. The Outreach Court program is a collaborative effort between the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, the Office of the District Attorney, the Law Offices of the Public Defender, the Private Defense Bar, the Bernalillo County Attorney’s Office and community providers. The court follows the American Bar Association’s (ABA) seven guiding principles for Homeless Courts and is modeled after the Sa he is following description of the court and how it operates
In May 2016, the “Metropolitan Veterans Court” was created. The Veterans Court leads a multidisciplinary team consisting of two probation officers, an assistant district attorney, a public defender, and the Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator from the New Mexico Veterans Administration Health Care System. To be eligible, defendants must be veterans of military service from any era regardless of discharge status, in the National Guard, or in the Reserves. Additionally, they must have been charged with a misdemeanor in Bernalillo County and volunteer to join the Court. Treatment services for any substance use disorder or mental illness, such as PTSD, are obtained primarily from the Veterans Administration Hospital or local Veterans Clinic. Participants meet with the judge for status hearings one or more times per month, undergo frequent and random drug and alcohol testing, meet with an assigned probation officer, engage satisfactorily in treatment, and satisfy other conditions of the Court. Each participant is paired with a mentor, who is also a veteran. The unique camaraderie of the veteran’s group is a vital component in each participant’s recovery.
In 2006, the Metropolitan Traffic Court Arraignment Program was created by an agreement between the City Attorney, the Bernalillo County District Attorney and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Assistant City Attorneys are cross deputized or appointed “special prosecutors” by the Bernalillo County District Attorney with the sole authority to negotiate plea and disposition agreements in traffic cases at the time of arraignments and approved by a Metro Judge, thereby negating the need for sworn APD personnel to appear at arraignments. When a person is stopped and issued traffic citation, the citing sworn officer determines if the driver will contest the citations. If the driver wants to contest the citations issued, an arraignment date and time is immediately scheduled by the citing officer utilizing a Metro Court scheduling program developed by the court.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
An analysis of the “Outreach Survey” of the displace homeless at Coronado Coronado Park and the 2021 Point In Time Survey reveal one unmistakable, tragic reality: the chronic homeless who are suffering from serious mental illness and/or substance abuse are simply not getting the basic mental health care, counseling and drug treatment and rehabilitation services needed to deal with their crisis. Many times, they simply are not in the system.
Being homeless is not a crime nor should anyone be jailed because they are homeless. But that does not mean the homeless should be allowed to violate the law. APD must not ignore enforcing the city’s anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, misdemeanor drug laws, civil nuisance abatement laws and criminal laws. The city and law enforcement must not pretend the laws do not exist to accommodate the homeless and allow the homeless to camp wherever they want, when they want and for as long as they can get away with it.
APD AND ACS DEPARTMENTS MUST PLAY A CRITCAL ROLE
APD is doing its job the best it can with resources it has when it comes to the homeless. As noted since the beginning of 2022 there have been issued 2,308 citations to the homeless and it has issued 614 trespassing notices with 3 trespassing stops revealing outstanding warrants.
The Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS) was created in part to deal with the homeless and the mentally ill by using social workers and mental health experts to reach out and to deal with the homeless as a substitute for dispatching APD. It is ACS that is actually dispatched to deal with homeless encampments.
Much more can be done with the coordination of resources and placing an emphasis on dealing with the mentally ill and the drug addicted in the form of civil commitments through the courts.
APD and the ACS departments need to and should assume the responsivity to investigate and identify those homeless and drug addicted who are criminal offense repeat offenders and who pose an immediate danger to themselves and others. Under such circumstances, constitutional policing practices would have to be adhered to avoid violations of civil rights. The goal would be to get the homeless identified into the civil judicial system for mental health commitment hearings.
CIVIL COMMITMENT HEARINGS
The are laws on that books that deal with when and under what circumstances formal civil commitment hearings can be initiated for 3-day, 7-day and even 30-day observation and diagnostic evaluations for the mentally ill and the drug addicted. Such process and procedures can be utilized to deal with the homeless and to ensure that they get the medical treatment and counselling services they need. Both the City Attorney and the Bernalillo County District Attorney can and should dedicate resources in the form of attorneys that will assume the filing of civil mental health commitment pleadings for such hearings as prescribed by law. The New Mexico Public Defender should also be called upon by the Courts to provide a defense where and when it is needed.
The link to review the applicable New Mexico state statutes NM Statute §43-1-1 (2019), NM Stat § 43-1-1 (2019), NM Stat § 43-1-11 (2020) on civil mental health commitments is here:
CREATE “OUTREACH, VETERANS AND HOMELESS COURT”
A greater emphasis must be made to get those homeless who are not in the criminal justice system the medical care and assistance they need without criminal prosecution and warehousing in the county jail. A civil mental health commitment court for the homeless to deal with the mentally ill and the drug addicted who pose a threat to themselves, their family and the general public should be established.
One single specialty court designated as the “Outreach, Veterans and Homeless Court” or “OVH Court” should be created. A program of cross deputization of City Attorney’s by the Bernalillo County District Attorney to allow them to file civil mental health commitment petitions in State District Court in misdemeanor and felony cases can be created.
The Criminal Division of the State District Court should assign a District Court Judge do deal exclusively with mental health commitment hearings with the help of Metro Judges and the consolidation and the assistance of “Metro Court Outreach Court” and the “Metro Community Veterans” court under one court that is established in both Metro Court and State District Court using both court’s resources including courtrooms.
APD is doing its job with resources it has when it comes to the homeless. As noted since the beginning of 2022 there have been issued 2,308 citations to the homeless and it has issued 614 trespassing notices with 3 trespassing stops revealing outstanding warrants. However, much more can be done with the coordination of resources and placing an emphasis on dealing with the mentally ill and the drug addicted. The Metro Court should establish an identical court procedure that it has with the Metro Traffic Arraignment Program that when the officer issues a citation to the homeless person, a Notice and date and time of hearing is also provided in the citation itself.
Both the City Attorney and the Bernalillo County District Attorney could dedicate resources in the form of attorneys that will assume the filing of civil mental health commitment hearings as allowed by law. A program of cross deputization of City Attorney’s by the Bernalillo County District Attorney to allow them to file civil mental health commitment petitions in State District Court in misdemeanor and felony cases needs to be created. The New Mexico Public Defender must be called upon by the Courts to provide a defense where and when needed.
EXISTING MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE CARE AT GIBSON GATEWAY HOMELESS SHELTER
The existing county mental health facilities and programs as well as the new Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter would be relied upon by the OVH Specialty Court to provide the necessary referral facilities and house programs for the homeless who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction programs in lieu of jail.
The Gibson Medical Center which is being converted into the Gateway Homeless shelter, already houses at least 4 programs that deal with mental illness treatment and drug rehabilitations. Those programs are
The Haven Behavioral Hospital, which is an inpatient and out-patient treatments for individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues and
the Turquoise Lodge Hospital, a NM Department of Health hospital that provides substance abuse treatment services to New Mexico residents.
The Albuquerque Community Safety Department which is part of the City’s public safety response system, and responds to 911 calls for mental health, substance use, and homelessness issues.
AMG Specialty Hospital is a 25 Bed Long Term Acute Care hospital that specializes in the management of complex medical needs. Some of the medical conditions treated include: ventilator weaning, respiratory failure, chronic non-healing wounds, nutritional management, closed-head injury, rehabilitation with complications, and other medically complex patients.
Fresenius Medical Care provides care to people living with chronic kidney disease and related conditions,
Zia Healthcare coordinates care of patients with their providers
New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
Encampment Outreach Team, which secures the ¼ mi radius around the facility and connects individuals in encampments to service.
The Keller Administration significantly reduced plans for the Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter, the former Lovelace Medical Hospital and Gibson medical center, from an unlimited number of overnight beds to a homeless shelter for upwards of 50 women and those needing medical care. The Gibson Gateway Shelter has 201 patient rooms, and the facility could provide the necessary facilities for the medical care and treatment of the mentally ill.
Not until the chronically mentally ill and drug addicted homeless get the medical care and attention they so desperately need and perhaps even shun can we expect real progress in reducing the number of homeless on the streets. An “Outreach, Veterans and Homeless Court” with a civil mental evaluation component is a viable option.