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Take back our city: Street people have needs, but so do the rest of us

Most street people you see around Albuquerque aren’t homeless per se. Per the Albuquerque Police Department, the majority have a lifestyle and community that simply likes living on the street.

There are lots of resources for those who want to change their lives, but most street people don’t want that. The city, county, nongovernmental organizations – i.e., Heading Home and many others – and the Veterans Administration all have active outreach programs for street people, yet they still choose the street life.

Generally, they support themselves by receiving government disability payments, welfare, food stamps and handouts at street corners. Arguably, this doesn’t apply to all street people, but according to Heading Home, the average homeless period for their clients is less than 96 hours – that leaves a lot of people not interested in making a change.

So what’s the problem?

Illegal camping on road rights of way, city parks, the Bosque, along AMAFCA drainage canals, on overpasses, under bridges and everywhere else you care to look – tents all over in the Big-I must give visitors a great impression of our city. Not only is this unsightly, but a health hazard – think sanitation concerns.

In addition, street people, and panhandlers, too, leave behind a tremendous amount of litter which the city has to clean up – according to a February 2019 KOB article, the city spends over $600,000 per year on litter removal.

Given high drug usage among street people, the city now has classes for park users in how to safely remove syringes that are found in parks all over town. Can you imagine your child infected by a discarded drug needle?

Ever wonder where street people obtain shopping carts to haul around their “stuff”? Every cart has been stolen, and those using them are in possession of stolen property, a crime under city ordinances.

Yet cops won’t make arrests since stores won’t show up in court to prosecute. Thieves go free, and the carts, once abandoned, are viewed as “litter” according to the city. Inexpensive technology exists for stores to install wheel-locking mechanisms if carts leave their parking lots; shouldn’t the city require they do so to help minimize the cost of litter cleanup?

Panhandling, i.e., asking you for money, is a First Amendment right per the courts. Fine, but to avoid people darting in and out of high traffic intersections to grab money – a safety issue, and holding up traffic and creating flared tempers of drivers in a hurry – shouldn’t the city consider moving all persons asking for money to safer ground? A reasonable approach based on public safety would have all appeals for money removed from high-traffic intersections.

Misplaced sympathy compels people to give panhandlers money, enabling continued bad behavior by facilitating the street person’s unwillingness to pursue what the average Joe would consider a better lifestyle.

But take a hard look at panhandlers as a group. Most are drinking sodas from nearby stores, many are smoking and most have smartphones. If you have no money can you really afford these things?

A couple of years back, when APD still rousted panhandlers from busy intersections, an APD sergeant told me panhandlers typically had a couple of hundred dollars in their backpacks. He also noted many panhandlers work their respective corners in shifts, spelling each other.

Doesn’t this sound more like a job with tax-free income?

Let’s encourage our elected officials to figure this out – and soon.

Street people deserve a fair chance to turn their lives around, but at the same time the rest of us deserve to not have to put up with illegal camping, unsanitary situations, dangerous traffic safety issues and a crisis of litter and drug needles at city parks, other campsites and at busy intersections.

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