On the evening of Wednesday, June 22, the Albuquerque City Council met with city officials from the Department of Family and Community Services to discuss the ongoing crisis of the high number of unhoused people in the city, mainly focusing on an ordinance to define the rules and regulations around creating city-sanctioned encampments.
The safe outdoor space ordinance, which previously passed through the council, will allow city-run camps for unhoused individuals to live in with public facilities for them to use. These spaces will be permitted in Albuquerque come Aug. 1. However, the ordinance discussed at the meeting on Wednesday that would define the implementation of these spaces and other rules or regulations failed in council.
Enrique Cardiel, executive director of the Health Equity Council and supporter of the ordinance, said that not adequately defining the spaces’ implementation will set them up to fail and further aid councilors' calls to repeal the original safe outdoor space ordinance.
“Not pursuing and not deciding on some kind of regulations is going to really just set it up for the spaces to fail. And so, I think it would be more useful to have guidelines. The reality is, even with the safe outdoor spaces, there's still going to be people that don't fit there for some reason, and so we really need to step this up,” Cardiel said.
The spaces would be a place for people to seek shelter within the city, unlike the Westside Shelter which resides 20 miles outside of the city, according to Carol Pierce, the director of the city of Albuquerque’s Department of Family and Community Services.
“(The Westside Shelter) is an old jail; some people came from that site to begin with and are re-traumatized (when going back),” Pierce said.
Councilor Dan Lewis had trouble understanding why encampments still exist, calling on the Albuquerque Police Department to cite more unhoused individuals.
“We have the ability to cite. We have the ability to move people on. We have the ability to clean up those encampments, so why do they continue to exist?” Lewis said.
While officers can cite individuals who are encamped illegally, McClendon v. City of Albuquerque was a case in the U.S. District Court which prevents the city from arresting individuals for being unhoused.
City shelters often go empty, though, largely because you often need to pass a background check to enter, and many spaces are reserved for families, according to Elizabeth Holguin, the deputy director of homeless solutions and clinical advisor.
During the public comment, community member Selina Lucero said that while she was unhoused, there were many barriers presented while seeking shelter in city facilities.
“I had a lot of doors closed … There's a lot of barriers also in different community resources … I got picked for a lottery and was disqualified because of a eviction,” Lucero said.
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Councilors further pressed what enforcement measures officers could take on the unhoused population. Councilor Louie Sanchez asked if they could track unhoused folks to further ensure citations are being given out. Councilor Renée Grout asked if there was a way to shorten the 72-hour evacuation notice from encampments.
“As soon as it's cleaned up, people are back; it's like a revolving door. It’s just a hot mess,” Grout said.
However, besides Councilor Pat Davis asking what solutions other cities were taking in regards to safe, open spaces, no other plans were discussed in regards to the issue of
homelessness. The Albuquerque Community Safety Department, a department tasked with responding to 911 calls regarding homelessness and mental health issues, was never mentioned.
Cardiel said that they hope the city steps up and adequately deals with this issue, as it is a public health crisis.
“Living outside is a huge public health issue. People who live outdoors die at an earlier age (and) deal with a lot more health issues … We don't provide adequate restrooms for people, and people want to complain about people using the restroom outdoors … People complain about syringes being all over the place … We're setting up huge public health issues,” Cardiel said.
The City Council will next meet on Aug. 1, as they are on a hiatus for the month of July.
Madeline Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite.