Albuquerque plans formal camps for homeless people
Campgrounds for homeless people in Albuquerque could become easier to set up under two City Council proposals, the Proposed temporary campground and the Safe outdoor spaces proposal. These will be heard by the City of Albuquerque Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee Wednesday. KUNM’s Yasmin Khan spoke about the issue with Peter Rice, editor of Downtown Albuquerque News.
PETER RICE: So right now you have people camping pretty much only on private land or on public land. And in both cases, it is rather illegal. There are cases where it is tolerated, such as in Coronado Park north of Downtown in the West Park neighborhood. Basically, if you’re camping, whether it’s at the Bosque, or by the side of the road or under a bridge, you could be kicked out at any time. So that would establish an official location with an assigned spot, you would fill out a form or two, and you would have some sort of officially sanctioned place to go.
KUNM: Who are these camps for?
RICE: So the technical term they use is “low barrier”. The idea here is that we’re pretty much going to take anyone under the theory that you can be in a place where you know you have at least one assigned location and a place to go and access bathrooms and to garbage collection, (which) is better than you rigging a jury some kind of camping in a park.
KUNM: And have you heard from campground residents themselves what they think of this proposal?
RICE: Some people say “sounds great, I’ll check it out”. Some people say “no way I won’t”. And I imagine some people are probably on the fence. This seems to be how it happened in other cities. And speaking of other cities, it’s not something we’re making up here. I want to say, Las Cruces do this, Denver do, that several other cities around the West.
KUNM: the article you wrote indicates that Wells Park, Martineztown, Barelas, South Broadway and areas along Central are some of the target areas of the proposal. But we know that homeless people are in all areas of the city. Are there any offers for temporary campgrounds in other parts of town as well?
RICE: It’s a city-wide problem. And between talking to the counselor [Ike] Benton and reviewing the mayor’s budget document, it appears the general plan is to find vacant lots throughout the city and allocate them, which is likely a political necessity. If it’s really to be done, inner city neighborhoods in particular already have plenty of homeless services in their backyards, and they’re particularly resentful of the prospect of shouldering more than their fair share. share, as they see it.
KUNM: Thus, some people criticize these campgrounds as a stopgap solution to a larger housing crisis. How do these campgrounds fit into more permanent affordable housing strategies?
RICE: I think the stop gap criticism is probably quite valid. I guess the best case scenario here is that much like a conveniently run shelter, a campground is a place where people can sort of hang their hats up a bit, have access to all the services they need, and get away from it all. ‘install enough to the point where the next step would be to get their own place. So I guess at best they act as a sort of funnel into the more traditional housing system. Now, this more traditional housing system still has major structural flaws at this point. Things are really expensive. It is downright illegal to build apartment complexes in much of Albuquerque. We have slowly moved away from common living situations such as single room occupancies. So there really isn’t a lot of emphasis on the more affordable kind of small housing, which seems to be the main problem we’re facing here.
KUNM: So for people who may have this knee-jerk reaction of, “I don’t want this in my backyard,” the alternative is simply what’s happening now, which a lot of people are also complaining about. I mean, there has to be some movement, one way or another.
RICE: You’ll find a lot of people downtown who have this opinion of “maybe I don’t want it next door. But I don’t want it in my park either”. So if it makes it easier to use the park, or walk down the street or take the bus or whatever, then okay, let’s talk about it. A small part of our city carried the vast majority of the burden. So if you see anyone camping or a large encampment, it’s likely to be south of I-40. Now, if you live north of I-40, the kind of “not in my backyard” feeling I imagine is going to be much stronger because it has actually worked in the past. Now, those of us who live in the urban core, or other parts of that kind of wide south of I-40, we can see in our daily lives that it didn’t work. I think there is a broad consensus that something has to change here now.