Some homeless advocates are asking the city to delay closing Coronado Park because there is no real plan for what comes next.
Mayor Tim Keller has said there are enough shelter beds in the city to host the number of people sleeping in the park, estimated to be 75 to 120 unhoused people per night. Outreach staff has been talking with the Coronado campers, explaining that they’ll need to find other accommodations and informing them of services available. Officials acknowledge some homeless people won’t use shelters, but at least they’ve been given ample warning of what’s coming.
The Family and Community Services Department and the Albuquerque Community Safety Department have spearheaded the outreach effort to get folks who want services connected with the right program or organization. Through this effort, roughly 20% of the people contacted in the park have opted to receive services, according to a city news release. Some individuals have been transported to a hospital to receive needed medical care and some received assistance getting transportation back to their homes out of state. Along with nonprofit partners, FCS conducted an in-depth survey of people living in the park to best understand what resources would be most helpful to them.
While a long-term plan is still needed, at least the city is dealing with the problem in the short term by initiating a sequence of events aimed at getting more people into shelters, while simultaneously breaking up “the most dangerous place in the state of New Mexico,” as Keller describes it.
A petition initiated by the program director for the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness calls into question the fairness of the park’s closure, especially because the people affected weren’t consulted. “Those are the people often left out of the process, and they’re the people that we need to be listening to,” Tony Watkins said. While we appreciate Watkins’ egalitarian approach and agree all people should be treated with respect, the park’s deplorable living conditions and threat to public safety require bold action. What would the NMCEH and other homeless advocates have the city do?
Peter Cubra, a well-known Albuquerque attorney, penned an op-ed in last Thursday’s Journal with a clear message: Rousting people out of the park — many of whom refuse to go to shelters because of varying personal circumstances — without a clear Plan B would be “reckless and heartless.”
Is it any more humane to allow people to continue living amid filth and potential violence because they don’t want to leave an area that should never have been allowed to become the city’s de facto tent city?
This year alone, APD has received 418 calls for service directly at Coronado Park. Police have confiscated, among other things, one shotgun, three handguns, 4,500 fentanyl pills, more than five pounds of methamphetamine and $10,000 in cash in connection to a drugs-for-stolen-goods ring operating out of a nearby hotel. Since the beginning of 2021, police have investigated two shootings and 20 assaults.
On Monday, APD announced the arrest of Joseph T. Garcia, who was charged with killing Andrew Aguilar in June at Coronado Park. Detectives say Garcia sold drugs out of a motel north of Coronado Park and took drugs to homeless individuals at the park. Detectives were told Garcia was part of a group that controlled the park and sectioned off the land for people to live in the park.
Closing Coronado Park ends this predatory behavior — at least in this location. And it has led the city to intensify its efforts to serve the homeless population.
Critics aren’t wrong that, ideally, there would be a clear plan for what comes next. The impact of the park’s closure is uncertain — it’s likely many of the campers will spread into neighboring or other parts of the city.
But with the increased violence and unsanitary conditions at the park — tons of refuse are removed every two weeks — the status quo is simply unacceptable.
We invite critics to propose alternatives that serve both Coronado campers and the rest of Albuquerque’s 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.