'We're not going to wait any longer,' mayor says of Coronado Park - Albuquerque Journal

‘We’re not going to wait any longer,’ mayor says of Coronado Park

The city of Albuquerque plans to close Coronado Park in August. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Calling it “the most dangerous place in the state of New Mexico,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says closing Coronado Park is imperative, even without a fully formed plan for how to do it and what happens next.

A day after announcing the park’s impending closure, Keller provided more insight into why he is shuttering the park that hosts one of the city’s largest unsanctioned homeless encampments. He said he had to act due to the rampant criminal activity and to preserve any chance the city has of using it as a park in the future.

“We’re not going to wait any longer,” the mayor said Tuesday during a media briefing near the park where dozens of people were congregated around tents and other makeshift shelters. “We have all the evidence we need that says that we have to do something different.”

Some people who live at the park agree that it is unsafe, but say the city should not shut it down.

Albuquerque’s mayor has announced that Coronado Park will close in August. The park, which is located near 2nd street and I-40, currently houses many homeless people. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“This place is dangerous, it’s a nuisance, and it’s unfortunate that people in our situation cannot be nice and coexist with each other, but it really sucks to see this park go because this is the only place where we have community and can be together,” William Cole, 37, told a Journal reporter Tuesday.

He also offered a warning: “If we spread out throughout the city, it’s not really good for nobody.”

Officials say as many as 120 people currently camp at the park and that all will be offered services, such as a shelter bed, before the park is locked up some time in August. Keller said there is a sufficient supply of open shelter beds to accommodate all of the park’s current residents.

A recent survey of 71 people in the park found that 10 had already qualified for and received a voucher for rental assistance, said Carol Pierce, director of the city’s Family and Community Services Department.

“We want to really work with them intensively to figure out what are the barriers to using that housing voucher and get them safely housed,” Pierce said.

The mayor acknowledged that the closure would be a messy process and that dispersing park residents could create other problems.

He also reiterated that no decision has been made about the park’s specific closure date and what will happen long term to the property near Third and Interstate 40. He said options include reopening it as a park, using it for the neighboring fire station’s expansion or turning it into a “safe outdoor space” – a managed site with rules, toilets and showers where people who are homeless can legally camp.

“It is not going to be something where every question is answered and every plan is thought out,” he said of the situation today. “We do not have the luxury of a perfect plan.”

William Cole offered a warning about shutting Coronado Park: “If we spread out throughout the city, it’s not really good for nobody.” (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Keller on Tuesday pushed back against criticism that he made the closure decision without first notifying or consulting with key constituencies, such as the area neighborhood association. Keller had said a few weeks ago that his administration would have a new plan for Coronado Park by the end of July, so he said the news should not have been a surprise. He said the city would now begin sorting out the closure details and future plans with service providers, park residents, neighbors and other elected officials.

“This is the first step. We welcome everyone to help us problem-solve, but someone has to step up and make a decision,” he said. “And that’s what people elected me to do.”

Keller repeatedly cited the park’s public safety issues, including five homicides over the past few years. Journal reporting shows four homicides at the park and another near the park since April 2018.

Albuquerque Police Lt. Nick Wheeler told reporters Tuesday that officers had responded to the park 651 times in 2021 and 312 times so far in 2022. He said criminal activity had spiked at the park over the past three years, though neither he nor a department spokeswoman were immediately able to provide data charting the calls for service to the park over the past decade.

Wheeler also said there had been 16 stabbings at the park in the past two years, including one last week, and that, in the past 30 days, law enforcement had seized from the park 4,500 fentanyl pills, more than 5 pounds of methamphetamine, 24 grams of heroin and 29 grams of cocaine. All those drugs were tied to a single bust in late June that occurred at a nearby motel, not the park, though an APD spokeswoman said the suspect was “mainly doing all their distributions (at the park).”

People who live in Coronado Park agree it has problems.

Brandy Page says that, despite Coronado being dangerous, and having her belongings stolen once again at the park, she believes it “should not be completely shut down.” (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Yeah, this place is dangerous. There’s drugs, alcohol, there are fights here constantly and something should be done to control all that,” said Brandy Page, 39, who has lived on and off at Coronado Park for six months.

She said all of her stuff was stolen “for the 20th time” on Monday night. Despite that, she said the park residents “have a right to live somewhere, and in no way do I think it should be completely shut down.”

She said she did not want to stay in a shelter – a common sentiment.

Homeless for much of the past eight years, 56-year-old Oriol Chavez said he has stayed in shelters before and, even though Coronado Park “is very, very dangerous,” he does not want to stay in a shelter.

He said he feels he now has “nowhere to go.”

Not everyone agrees that Coronado is menacing. Sol Badguy, as he calls himself, said that “there are dangerous moments here, but there are dangerous moments everywhere – you can be safe in your home, and somebody can come in and hurt you there.”

For him and others, Coronado “is not just a park for us, it’s our home, and I think it’s wrong that Mayor Keller wants to take away our home.”

Badguy came to Albuquerque from New Orleans, where he was displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He said he refuses to stay in a shelter because it would be like being in captivity. “That’s treating us like animals, and that’s not OK.”

 

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