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Thursday, November 27, 2014

UNM’s homeless seek food, relief

The homeless population in the UNM area has led some students, faculty and staff to feel unsafe, but City and University officials said policies and programs exist to keep the campus secure and take care of those in need.

UNM student Joshua Niforatos sent the Daily Lobo a picture on Aug. 29 of a homeless man, whom he said was drunk, urinating on the side of the Communication and Journalism building that faces the bus stop. “I’ve been at UNM now for five years,” he wrote, “and I have seen drunks defecating in urinals and wiping themselves with the Daily Lobo.”

Niforatos said homeless people on campus create an uncomfortable environment.

“I’ve seen female students constantly harassed by drunks and homeless individuals, sometimes in groups, while walking on campus or waiting at bus stops,” he said. Sergeant Trace Peck, a UNMPD spokesman, said campus police commonly confront the homeless in the early mornings.

“Every morning we spend about the first hour and a half of our day moving homeless people off the campus,” he said. “We try to keep them moving — we ask them, ‘What purpose do you have on campus?’”

Peck said UNMPD takes the problem seriously.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for the homeless on campus who are terrifying students, using bathrooms and showers and making a mess,” he said. “We issue them citations, and of course they don’t show up for the citations, so next time we see them they have an arrest warrant on them.”

Niforatos said he doesn’t think the homeless should be removed from campus, but student safety should come first.

“I’m not expecting there to be security in every bathroom, nor am I requesting that all homeless people be kicked off campus,” he said. “I understand that UNM has become a palpable haven for numerous individuals that need and deserve help. I also understand that UNM is a public university. It just seems prudent to do something now before a preventable tragedy occurs.”

Niforatos said UNM should do more to get the homeless off the streets; that the campus needs to find a solution that works for all parties involved.

“I believe UNM and the student body should be actively involved in outreach to help and support individuals suffering from different forms of structural violence. However, the library and other UNM learning facilities are not appropriate venues for such outreach.”

Student Conduct Officer Robert Burford said students can report any type of harassment on campus to the Dean of Students Office or campus police.

“If we know who these people are, we can have them reported to our office or police,” he said. “We don’t want people harassing students on campus.”

One of UNM area’s homeless, Antoine Germain, said he often doesn’t have a place to sleep or enough to eat, and UNM offers opportunities for both.

“I come here and ask for food or stuff just because there are a lot of people,” he said. “I have to watch for the police because they aren’t very nice to us usually. I don’t think they understand what it is like, really. The worst I ever do is pee on campus, and I try not to bug people or anything.”

Germain said police rarely offer help to people who have nowhere to go.

Albuquerque Rescue Mission offers services to homeless in the UNM area. Spokeswoman Teresa Fleming said the Rescue Mission is willing to work with UNM and with the community to meet the needs of Albuquerque’s homeless.

“We have gotten feedback about people begging for pizza, or for one or two dollars at restaurants, so we are giving out cards with our information to store managers,” she said. “That way they can give them to people who come asking for food and they can be directed to us where we have shelter, services and food.”

Fleming said the restaurant program was put in place last week, and she hopes to extend the program to UNM.

“That is certainly something we will look into doing,” she said.

“We can give those cards to UNM’s police — that way they can tell the people where they can go. That really is the heart of the problem: they have nowhere to go, they move when the police come, but then they come back as soon as they are gone.”

Student Andrew Langston said homeless people on campus don’t bother him.

“They ask for money, or for cigarettes, but it’s not that big of a nuisance,” he said. “They never really do anything. Usually they say they need money for food or ‘just 35 cents to get downtown,’ but they usually want it for alcohol.”