On Sunday, November 12, and November 8, the Albuquerque Journal published the following two opinion guest columns. Taken together, the guest columns highlight a recent District Court ruling granting an injunction against the city and the Albuquerque Police Department from enforcing state laws and city ordinance that prevent the proliferation of homeless encampments throughout Albuquerque on public land and open spaces. Further, on November 8, Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman announced the filing of an amicus brief siding with the city.
NOVEMBER 12 GUEST COLUMN BY PETE DINELLI
HEADLINE: NM Supreme Court must quash misguided ruling on ABQ homeless
By Pete Dinelli, former Albuquerque city councilor and former chief public safety officer for the city
“On Dec. 19, 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed a class-action lawsuit against the city on behalf of the city’s homeless, alleging civil rights violations during the closure of Coronado Park, which had become [Mayor Keller’s] “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment.
Over three years, crimes involving the homeless spiked at the park with four murders, six stabbings, rapes and drug dealing. APD was dispatched to the park hundreds of times each year until its closure.
In 2022, APD seized at the park 4,500 fentanyl pills, more than 5 pounds of methamphetamine, 24 grams of heroin and 29 grams of cocaine. The lawsuit was filed to stop the city from destroying encampments of the unhoused wherever found and seizing or destroying personal property of the homeless.
On Sept. 21, state District Court Judge Josh Allison entered a preliminary injunction against the city from “enforcing or threatening to enforce” statutes and city ordinances to displace the homeless from public spaces. The injunction became effective November 1.
The court enjoined the city from seizing and destroying homeless belongings and mandates a warrant with post-property deprivation hearings. The city is appealing the injunction arguing it is “a dangerous ruling that severely limits the city to keep our city clean and safe, while getting people connected to the help they need.”
The injunction usurps the city’s right to take necessary and preventative action to protect the public health, safety and welfare with the enforcement of public safety laws involving the homeless.
Judge Allison essentially ruled the unhoused, because of their homeless status and because there is insufficient housing offered by the city, have the right to violate the law and illegally camp wherever they want for as long as they want without government interference. Judge Allison found “the City is not constitutionally obligated to provide housing for homeless people,” yet he ruled the city cannot “threaten” to enforce the laws against the homeless until the city provides sufficient shelter for all, ignoring many chronic unhoused refuse city services.
APD is under a court-approved settlement in a federal lawsuit involving jail overcrowding wherein the city agreed not to make arrests for nonviolent crimes, such as trespass on public and private property, illegal camping on all city parks and streets, rights of way, alleyways and open space to prevent jail overcrowding. APD is relegated to merely encouraging or telling the homeless to move on and camp elsewhere with no arrest and taking them to jail. Judge Allison has now enjoined such conduct.
The city cannot simply ignore laws that have the purpose of preserving and protecting the public health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Unlawful encampment of homeless squatters who have no interest in any offers of city shelter, beds, motel vouchers nor alternatives to living on the street and who want to camp at city parks, on city streets, in alleys and trespass in open space give the city no choice but to take action and force them to move on.
Judge Josh Allison’s injunction prohibits the city from instructing the homeless to move on, labeling it a “threat of an arrest” that will never happen because of a federal jail overcrowding case.
The New Mexico Supreme Court needs to quash the injunction immediately.”
The link to review this guest column along with a photo of Richard Aragon, who has been experiencing homelessness for two years, as he occupies the sidewalk at Prospect NW near Second in Albuquerque is here:
NOVEMBER 8 GUEST COLUMN BY ROBERT JACKSON
On November 8, the Albuquerque Journal published the following guest column:
HEADLINE: Are we willing to put up with homeless camping in public?
By Robert Jackson, Albuquerque resident
“The Oct. 29 Journal op-ed by the ACLU … emphasized society’s obligations to care for the homeless and needy — but what about caring for the rest of us?
A recent court decision leaves public spaces … open to encampments without regard for their intended usage. City parks are especially at risk of being overrun by [homeless] encampments.
Let’s get this straight — we aren’t discussing homelessness. Heading Home says the vast majority of the newly homeless are housed within 72 hours. People living unhoused in camps, however, are generally drug- or alcohol-addicted, mentally challenged, and/or those simply enjoying a life with no responsibilities to themselves or others.
Being unhoused is, generally speaking, a choice. And the vast majority of the unhoused don’t want intervention since they don’t want to change their lifestyle — anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.
Government authorities offer a vast array of services to help the unhoused, with some accepting help, but most refusing. When the city closed Coronado Park, campers were warned weeks in advance. They were offered services, housing vouchers, everything the city had to offer.
When the park was closed, reporting by the Journal showed most of them had housing vouchers in their pockets. All were offered vouchers — most chose not to use them, making a conscious decision to remain unhoused. Outfitted with tents, sleeping bags, bikes and shopping carts, they were fully prepared to continue their life on the street.
The people in encampments across the city share a commonality. They are generously, some might say lavishly, supported by Social Security disability payments, state welfare payments, food stamps, Medicaid, housing vouchers, city issued cellphones, free bus service, NGO food services, bed space, medical and dental services and the generosity of gullible enablers who give them money for tattoos and cigarettes.
Now, thanks to a recent court decision, the deliberately unhoused can camp wherever they want on public lands (in Bernalillo County unless on school property or dangerously blocking a sidewalk or other public right of way)
Unsanitary conditions, used needles, trash, litter and debris be damned — they’re free to do what they want, imposing themselves upon the rest of us with impunity. Is this truly what people are willing to put up with? Are we content to accept this new reality?
Yes, continue offering housing vouchers, addiction and psychological services. But implement a carrot and stick approach to leverage people into using these services or lose their government support.
Isolate the burdens the deliberately unhoused impose on the rest of us by swiftly licensing limited numbers of regulated encampment spaces.
Enforce laws against theft or possession of stolen shopping carts, or create a bounty on their recovery.
Enforce laws against littering and loitering
Treat public urination, defecation and used needles for what they are, a bio-hazard and public health threat.
Finally, the city has to get a spine — legal action is required to remedy the carte blanche legal access bestowed upon anyone who wants to camp in parks, medians, and other public property. These areas are intended for the public at large, not the select few who have no regard for others, no public decency or any sense of personal responsibility.”
The link to the Journal guest column by Robert Jackson along with a photo of a homeless encampment near the intersection of Utah and Zuni avenues in Southeast Albuquerque is here:
BERNALILLO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY FILES AMICUS BRIEF
On November 2, it was reported that Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman’s office has filed an amicus brief or friend of court brief, in the ACLU lawsuit brought against the city to try to get more flexibility on how the city deals with unhoused people. Bregman said this:
“As the district attorney, I’m charged with enforcing the laws of the state of New Mexico. And too many times what comes across my desk is the fact that the homeless, the unhoused, are actually victims of horrific crimes. … I don’t have to look past two days ago …. when a jury came back and convicted [Jeremy Garcia] … of second-degree murder for intentionally running someone over at [Coronado Park] … homeless encampment. …
I do believe that we need to focus on long-term housing, but also short-term. We need to make sure we provide enough beds for anybody that is experiencing homelessness and we need to make sure we’re doing it the best we can as far as providing resources.
… We can’t accept the idea that we just have to let [the homeless] be. And in other words, we don’t give them the help homeless people need and the community just has to accept it. … It’s not, it’s not acceptable. We need to make sure we get them the resources they need. But at the same time, we need to be able to enforce the law.”
The link to the quoted news source is here:
The link to a related Dinelli blog article on the ACLU lawsuit is here:
Judge Enjoins City From “Enforcing Or Threatening To Enforce” Laws Against Homeless To Displace Them From Public Spaces, Seizing And Destroying Homeless Belongings Without Warrant, Mandates Post-Deprivation Hearings; Injunction Usurps And Interferes With City’s Legitimate Enforcement Of Public Safety Laws; City Will And Should Appeal; County Sheriff Should Start Arresting And DA Should Start Prosecuting