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Editorial: City needs unified plan to help homeless population

So just how bad is the local homeless problem?

Estimates for the city’s homeless population range from 1,300 to 5,000. By one estimate, roughly 80 percent of homeless people in Albuquerque are dealing with mental health issues and/or addictions. But those eye-popping figures tell just part of the story.

This is a worsening problem we, as a city, need to get a handle on, both for the sake of homeless people and for the businesses and residents disproportionately affected by them.

Homeless people are victimized at a higher rate than the general population. In 2016, 11 of the city’s 61 murder victims were homeless. Last year, 14 of the 72 murder victims in Albuquerque were homeless. And the cases we’ve seen in recent years have been truly horrifying.

Fifty-year-old Ronnie Ross, a homeless man, was murdered by two teenagers in March, shot more than a dozen times “for fun,” according to police. In 2017 Leo Molzhon, 50, was sleeping under the Interstate 40 overpass on 12th street when he was set on fire. But homeless people aren’t the only victims.

Patrick Segura, owner of Stubblefield Print & Signs, has been in business more than two decades. But he’s ready to throw in the towel thanks to an influx of homeless people into the Near North Valley neighborhood. He told the Journal his business can no longer sustain the financial impact they cause.

“I find hypodermic needles all over my property, and I’m always shoveling up feces and pouring bleach on the ground to kill the bacteria from around my dumpster where they relieve themselves,” Segura said.

Residents of the Near North Valley neighborhood say conditions seemed to get worse in 2014 with the relocation of The Rock at NoonDay, which feeds breakfast, lunch and dinner daily to up to 1,000 homeless people and provides other services.

As the Journal’s Rick Nathanson reported last week in a three-day series on homeless issues in Albuquerque, neighborhoods surrounding a cluster of homeless service providers bear a disproportionately larger burden because of the concentrated presence of homeless people. Problems are particularly evident along the corridor running across the eastern portion of Barelas, through Downtown and into Wells Park and Near North Valley neighborhoods. Those include:

• Debris left behind – from human feces and syringes to liquor bottles and other trash.

• People sleeping or camping out on private property or living out of their cars parked in front of homes or businesses;

• Altercations, sometimes violent, involving people who are clearly drunk, on drugs or mentally ill;

• Drug trafficking; prostitution; the preying on the homeless by criminals;

• Graffiti; panhandling; vandalism; theft; and increased danger as impaired homeless people fall into the street or carelessly walk into traffic.

Advocates for homeless people are right when they say they’re not going away and need social services to survive and break the cycle of homelessness. But they should also realize the current piecemeal approach, as well-meaning as it is, isn’t working. Albuquerque needs an orchestrated, unified plan to truly make a dent in this problem, and Mayor Tim Keller should take the lead on developing it – with public input and buy-in from the county and groups that aid homeless people.

Keller has floated the idea of a 24-hour detox, mental health drop-off and triage center, noting that such a facility would save police officers time. It’s an idea he should pursue.

And while we certainly understand the desire by some to transport homeless people to a proposed campus way out on the West Side, that plan just doesn’t seem feasible.

Albuquerque’s homeless population deserves help and dignity, and simply carting it off so we don’t have to look at it promises neither.

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.

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