I am writing to urge the city to postpone the proposed closure of Coronado Park. Mayor Tim Keller has been quoted as saying, “The time is up for waiting that much longer to do something with Coronado Park, … We do not have the luxury of a perfect plan. … Once we actually close the park, we’ll have the time to think through longer-term options.” The Journal quoted City Councilor Trudy Jones as saying, “‘Do I think it’s a great idea? Sure – if we have plan B. What are we doing with the people we’re taking out? If we’re just shuffling them out of there to shuffle them to another area, that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing.”
It is rumored the city plans to force all of the people out of the park by Aug. 18, although the city not only has not issued a “perfect plan;” it hasn’t publicly issued any plan regarding the people who have been sleeping in Coronado Park because they understandably cannot tolerate sleeping in the old Westside jail (now the Westside Emergency Housing Center). Source NM quoted City Family and Community Services Department Director Carol Pierce as saying, “Many Coronado Park residents don’t want to stay at any of the city shelters, commonly noting how packed the shelter is or saying they don’t want to stay at the (westside shelter) because it used to be a jail.”
The city knows the park’s residents include: (1) people who were jailed in the building in the past; (2) families of different genders who are sheltering together; (3) women understandably fearful of exploitation or abuse there; (4) people with gender differences who reasonably fear harassment or worse; and (5) people with drug problems and/or mental health needs the shelter is unable to address. Rousting those people out of the park prior to clarifying “plan B” would be reckless and heartless, tantamount to “Ready, Fire, Aim.”
The city administration’s plan-less shutdown of Coronado Park is occurring in a vacuum. The Homeless Coordinating Council, established in 2020 “to deliver a coordinated community-wide framework for expanding and strengthening services and permanent affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness in the Albuquerque metro area,” evidently hasn’t met since January; closing Coronado Park is not mentioned on its webpage. Neither has the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, established by the consent decree in the federal lawsuit to reform our police department, been asked for its advice.
Forcing everyone out of Coronado Park before the city articulates a “plan B” would be arbitrary and capricious and violate the federal rights of the park’s residents. The city knows those people have reasonably chosen to sleep in the park rather than being driven 20 miles from the city center nightly to the old Westside jail to sleep in “male” or “female” dorms, where families are split up, theft and violence have occurred and sexual abuse has been alleged.
The proposed closure also violates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that encampments should be left intact if there are no individual housing options.
For these reasons, the city administration should not shut down the city’s largest gathering of people who don’t have housing until after a “Plan B” is established.