Relocation threats from Downtown businesses apparently were what prompted the city to come up with a “robust” and “sustainable” plan to stem the rampant vagrancy and crime that is increasingly keeping people from wanting to visit or work there.
But now that those problems have the administration’s attention, let’s hope noticeable progress can be made in time to avoid an exodus.
For years, Downtown and the surrounding area have been a haven for the homeless, in large part because many services set up to help them are located nearby. And because an inordinate number of homeless people suffer from mental illness and/or drug and alcohol abuse, crime can follow. But it’s important to note that 1. Being homeless doesn’t make you a criminal and 2. As many Journal readers pointed out in Monday’s letters package, while there’s crime on a lot of Downtown corners, Downtown doesn’t have a corner on crime.
While some cities have found workable solutions to address those problems, Albuquerque clearly has not. There are panhandlers on almost every corner in every quadrant and the city remains in the top rankings for violent crime and car theft.
Efforts to curb the homeless problem include the nationally recognized Heading Home and pay for work programs. In addition, Bernalillo County increased gross receipts taxes in 2015 that earmarked around $17 million per year for mental health and substance abuse services. But nothing has yet stemmed either vagrancy or crime. Both not only persist but have grown to untenable levels. Many feel unsafe Downtown, and similar concerns have been echoed from across the city.
The fact is, this is no longer a mere embarrassment or an inconvenient truth. It is a crisis that is affecting our quality of life today, as well as our ability to grow and become a better city tomorrow.
Because homelessness, addiction and crime are particularly acute in Downtown right now, it’s a good place to start the intervention. On Wednesday, Mayor Richard Berry announced an aggressive five-point plan for the area around the transportation center at First and Central, which is already being implemented. It includes greater police presence, graffiti and trash cleanup, services for people suffering mental health and addiction issues, partnerships with businesses and more coordination between private security and police.
“It will be a robust effort,” Berry said earlier. “We’ll work with our public and private partners to build a sustainable plan.”
It’s a plan that has the support of the nearby businesses, who say they have noticed a difference. Since June 26, police have handed out 214 verbal warnings and 42 citations, and made eight misdemeanor and 11 felony arrests.
But the plan needs to be sustainable, and there need to be bigger-picture solutions.
To combat serious crime, the district attorney, courts and police department are attempting to tackle repeat offenders; let’s hope they can figure out a way to work together to move that forward.
The Metropolitan Detention Center should work with the city to determine a better place, or places, to drop off released inmates. Currently, they’re dropped off Downtown at Fourth and Roma,which, ironically, is the Public Safety Building.
And, there needs to be a central crisis stabilization center – other than jail – where noncriminal homeless, mentally ill and addicted offenders can be taken for evaluation and referral to appropriate agencies (a key proposal in that county tax hike).
Many cities are judged by the vibrancy of their downtowns. Decades of effort to “revitalize” Downtown Albuquerque have begun to bear fruit as the city, CNM and UNM joined forces to set up operations to retrain the workforce of today as well as give the workforce of tomorrow a place to grow. It would be unforgiveable to allow those efforts to die on the vine at the hands of both criminals and our most vulnerable residents.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.