ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been billed as a keystone in helping fix problems around homelessness in Albuquerque. However, after the City of Albuquerque announced the Gateway Center project, people who live nearby say human waste, tent cities, needles, and people sleeping in the street have ramped up near their homes.
Several people living near the new overnight shelter told KRQE they asked for the city’s attention, and while the city did agree to help, neighbors argue the help does not reach far enough.
“I feel very bad for the children who have to encounter this in their life on a daily basis,” said District 6 Coalition Vice President Sandra Perea.
Speaking with Perea at a picnic table in Wilson Park, she kept her head on a swivel when answering questions. “It is a public park, and people are allowed to be here ‘til ten, but unfortunately, the people who are here ‘til ten are not the ones that need to be utilizing it as the children, and the elderly and having picnics or birthday parties. They can’t do that for fear of their safety,” she explained.
Throughout the conversation, the people behind Perea got ready for their day. One woman did her makeup, while another handed off needles to the group before putting on a facial mask. Perea said it’s no longer unusual to watch people groom themselves in this park, or any other park, in Albuquerque’s International District. She explained, “We’ve had an uptick of encampments [and] homeless people just wandering the streets.”
Having lived in the area for nearly 30 years, Perea said it’s clear the uptick is tied to the City of Albuquerque’s 2021 announcement of the Gateway Center, an overnight shelter that moved in a few streets over on Gibson Blvd SE.
“A lot of people think that because we live in what was referred to as the War Zone years ago, that we might be used to seeing this type of urban decay, but we are not,” added Rachel Baca, President of the Siesta Hills Neighborhood Association.
This issue has been the main topic in their conversations with the City’s Director of Family and Community Services. The conversations began because of the incoming Center. Carol Pierce explained their dialogue led to a “Good Neighbor Agreement.” “I think it’s a promise. Here’s what you can expect from us. Here’s what we can expect from you,” she said.
Initially, the neighbors felt the agreement would ensure they would be heard and that it could bring more police attention to their area. But Baca said conversations broke down around the same time the neighbors tried but failed to legally end the project. And months later, she said the city handed them a final version. With their requests missing, three neighborhood association presidents, including Baca, refused to sign.
“We wanted to land it, so we could keep moving on. And so, we’re continuing to meet monthly and doing above and beyond that agreement,” Pierce said. She also pointed out that the City of Albuquerque is honoring the agreement for every neighborhood association, even if their presidents did not sign. She also explained the document can change monthly as discussions continue.
However, the neighbors wanted a legally binding agreement. “To take care of the neighbors in the future,” Perea explained.
Specific to encampments, the neighbors asked for daily patrols within two miles of the Center. But the City of Albuquerque’s final agreement whittled that down to a quarter mile. “A quarter mile barely scratches the surface of where we are concerned that the impact might lie,” Baca said.
KRQE drove the quarter-mile area and found it was clear of encampments. A KRQE crew also spent three months checking in on the area just outside the quarter-mile zone and found:
- overflowing shopping carts blocking sidewalks, covering parking lots, and spilling into streets,
- someone sleeping in the street,
- a man throwing knives at a tree,
- a woman lighting up under a makeshift tent,
- a man with a hammock set up outside a preschool while a woman yelled at cars driving by,
- and the front of abandoned or closed businesses taken over by several people’s belongings.
Only once, did the KRQE crew see an officer in the area.
“And this is all within eyeshot of three schools!” Baca exclaimed.
Pierce told KRQE the areas outside the quarter-mile zone are patrolled by the encampment team that handles the whole city. And, she added, she disagrees that the Gateway Center brought the activity. “I don’t see it that way. So, what we do know, have there been encampments in the parks in that area? Yes. The magnetization? No,” she said.
Regardless of the factors behind the uptick, Baca said the City of Albuquerque needs to do something. “It is super frustrating,” she added.
As instructed by the City of Albuquerque, Baca and other neighbors call 311 to report encampments. A public records request showed 319 complaints over a five-month period. The neighbors said the problem is unless the campers pose a danger, they have 72 hours to move. Then, days later, they are back. “It feels like sweeping water, basically, every time that they do it,” Baca said.
Baca and Perea do not believe anything will change but think if they could give Albuquerque’s Mayor – their former State Senator — a boots-on-the-ground tour, it might help. “He has simply refused,” Perea said.
Mayor Tim Keller recently touted his administration’s investment in their community when responding to a question about an International District restaurant closing its doors after 60 years because of problems in the area. “There have been long-standing issues, but we are not gonna give up on that community,” the Mayor said. “You see it in the new Wilson Park, the new Phil Chacon Park, next up is Mesa Verde Park. So, we are literally reversing decades of underinvestment in that community.”
Perea and Baca believe Mayor Keller would see a different reality if he accepted their invitation. “It feels like we’re being abandoned,” Baca explained. “It feels dismissive, and it feels like a lost cause. Only we don’t feel that way about our homes and our communities.”
When asked why the Mayor has not taken the neighbors up on the offer to see their concerns, the Mayor’s Office issued a statement saying it has not been invited to the monthly meetings his administration holds with them.
“The Gateway will fill a critical need for the entire region. From the outset, the City has worked with the community to put feasible solutions into place, making directors and subject matter experts available. The Mayor’s Office has not received a request to attend one of the monthly meetings, but we are always open to having productive discussions on how we can work together to best serve our community’s needs.”Ava Montoya, Mayor’s Spokesperson
For more information on the monthly meetings the City holds with the neighborhood, click here.