Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

ABQ can take back its streets and park and help homeless

The years-long surrender of Coronado Park to the crime and chaos of a large homeless camp has come to an end. That’s good news, and we commend Mayor Tim Keller for his decision to shut it down.

Not only has the park been dangerous – home to stabbings, homicides and a significant drug trade – it has created miserable conditions for commerce and living for the businesses and residents in the surrounding area. Worse yet, Coronado Park has symbolized a city not in full control of its streets and a homelessness policy too accommodating of destructive behavior.

With the mayor’s announcement, we are glad to see things moving in a different direction.

Ultimately, we need to restore a sense of balance to how we address homelessness in Albuquerque. On one hand, we should be a service-delivery powerhouse. We should provide safe sheltering, access to various forms of temporary and transitional housing, food and clothing, medical treatment, enrollment support for public assistance, ID recovery and more. This is what a compassionate, caring community does.

On the other hand, our city is not a campground. We need to say that. And then enforce it. Those who are experiencing homelessness have the freedom to take the significant help offered to them or not, but if they don’t, it must be clear they cannot camp day after day on our streets, next to our businesses and in our parks. There are other cities willing to turn over swaths of land or entire streets to homeless campers, but Albuquerque simply does not have to be one of them.

Going forward, we first encourage the City Council to abandon an encampment strategy. Whether you call them “safe outdoor spaces” or something else, any policy that encourages our city to be used as a campground is not a good one. Forgive our skepticism, but most businesses – and likely most residents – don’t believe a sanctioned homeless camp would be either safe or small for very long. And the proliferation of homeless camps – however they’re constituted – would not make our community a safer place or help us attract talent, tourists, new residents or employers.

Second, with respect to the future of Coronado Park, closing down one homeless camp only to replace it with another – albeit under a different structure, with different promises – would be unfair and unwise.

Third, with intent, we should make Albuquerque an uncomfortable place for the homeless to camp. We want those who want help to receive it, but otherwise, we don’t want our compassion to be taken for granted. If this means hiring significantly more people to break up campsites and move people along, so be it. And if it means homeless campers get fed up and travel to a city less bothered by their campsites, that’s OK, too.

And finally, our Chamber of Commerce has been a strong proponent of the Gateway Center, a large-scale 24/7 shelter located nearer to the city’s core than other existing overnight shelters, where services can be co-located and coordinated and first responders can drop off the homeless for a safe night’s stay, detoxification, medical care or other help. It’s a model that has been proven to work.

Voters approved the Gateway Center project several years ago, as did the City Council. The administration found a suitable location for it, one that isn’t 20 miles outside of town – at a former medical center, no less. Now, the full intent of the Gateway Center needs to be realized. It’s time for the appeals and delays to end.

We urge the City Council to do whatever it takes to move the full opening of the Gateway Center forward. It should serve a large population each day – of single homeless adults, in particular. Shuttles from across the city, as well as first responders, should continually take those in need of help to the facility, where they find service providers working together to meet them, treat them and get them back on their feet.

In our view, Albuquerque’s homeless issue does not have to be a hopeless issue. We can do right by the homeless and right by our residents and businesses. We can defend the integrity of our streets, parks and property while also helping those in need.

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