Below is my guest column published by the Albuquerque Journal on Octobern18:
HEADLINE: Safe outdoor spaces not the answer to homeless crisis
BY PETE DINELLI / FORMER ALBUQUERQUE CITY COUNCILOR AND CHIEF PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER
PUBLISHED: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18TH, 2022 AT 12:02AM
For five years, Mayor Tim Keller has made the city’s homeless crisis a major priority and now proclaims an “all-the-above approach.” It’s an approach that is costing millions and it is failing. Keller has done the following:
- Over two years, budgeted $33,854,536 for homeless emergency shelters, support, mental health and substance abuse programs and $60,790,321 for affordable housing programs for the low-income, near homeless.
- Established two 24/7 homeless shelters, including purchasing the Gibson Medical Center for $15 million to convert it into a homeless shelter.
- Established a “no arrest” policy for violations of the city’s camping, trespassing and vagrancy laws with an emphasis on citations.
- For five years, allowed Coronado Park to become a “de facto” city-sanctioned homeless encampment, which he was forced to close down because of drugs and violent crimes.
- Advocated and funded city-sanctioned safe outdoor space (SOS) homeless tent encampments. The Environmental Planning Commission is recommending the City Council repeal this land use.
SOS encampments are not just an issue of “not in my back yard,” but one of legitimate anger and mistrust by the public against city elected officials and department employees who have mishandled the city’s homeless crisis and who are determined to allow SOS despite strong opposition. SOS tent encampments will destroy neighborhoods and make the city a magnet for the homeless. The general public has legitimate concerns that SOS homeless tent encampments will become crime-infested nuisances; such was the case with Coronado Park. The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city but must be managed with permanent housing assistance and service programs, not nuisance tent encampments.
The 2022 “Point In Time” homeless survey reported the number of homeless in the city is 1,311 with 940 in emergency shelters, 197 unsheltered and 174 in transitional housing. The survey found there are 256 fewer homeless in 2022 than in 2021. During the last 12 years, PIT yearly surveys have counted 1,300 to 2,000 homeless a year. The PIT survey statistics have never supported city or charitable provider claims the city has upwards of 5,000 homeless. When PIT survey results are released, the city and providers quickly dismiss them as an “undercount,” likely because fewer homeless means less funding for the Family Community Services Department.
The homeless have reached crisis proportions with them becoming far more visible and aggressive by illegally camping in parks, on streets, in alleyways and in city open space whenever they want. When it comes to the “homeless crimes” of loitering, panhandling, illegal camping and criminal trespassing, Mayor Keller implemented a “no arrest” policy where arrests are the last resort and citations are to be issued. APD is allowed to make arrests only when circumstances endangering public safety warrant an arrest. This policy is ill-advised.
Being homeless is not a crime. The city has a moral obligation to help the homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted and is doing so with millions spent each year. Homeless squatters who have no interest in city shelters, beds, motel vouchers and who want to live on the streets and camp in city parks, in alleys and trespass as they choose give the city no choice but to make it inconvenient for them to “squat” and force them to move on or be arrested by the Albuquerque Police Department.