ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Neighbors who live by Bethlehem Baptist Church near Coors and Bluewater are fighting a potential homeless camp. After the city denied its first Safe Outdoor Space application, the church filed a new one, leaving many neighbors fearing for their safety.
“My mother, who’s 87 years old, lives in this neighborhood. We have a duplex that we rent out to a single mother and a single father; it won’t be safe for them. They’ll probably move out,” Monica Mondragon said.
The homeless would stay here on a vacant lot on the church’s property. Dennis Hubbard, the pastor, says he understands the concern but says this would be no Coronado Park. It would only be for the working homeless living in their vehicles.
Hubbard says there would be security, portable showers, and bathrooms, plus everyone who stays must be sober. “(I’m) trying to get working folks, who happen to be homeless, off the street, and if people are mad at me about that, well, I don’t know what to say,” Hubbard said.
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But neighbors aren’t convinced. In fact, conversations have become so tense that APD was called in on Friday during a neighborhood meeting. “We almost ended up in a big old fistfight at the last meeting simply because of the concerns that the neighborhood has and that they didn’t. The pastor didn’t address them; he just got quiet through the whole meeting,” a neighbor said.
Michael Creager has lived next door to the church for 33 years. If approved, the camp would be just feet away, and he says he might move. “I’m just livid. I have had some health issues that have been exacerbated by this proposal,” he said.
But even if the spot is approved, it could take months before the homeless move in. The backlash against these homeless encampments is causing serious hold-ups. The first safe outdoor space at I-25 and Menaul was approved in early August. It was expected to be up and running within 30 days, but that lot is still vacant because of seven appeals from neighbors.
In a letter, the city’s Land Use Hearing Officer says Dawn Legacy Pointe, the nonprofit overseeing the site, didn’t properly notify neighbors about the safe outdoor space. The location is now on hold. Dawn Legacy Pointe must go through the approval process all over again and notify the neighborhood property before moving forward, and that’s just the beginning. There are other complaints in the appeal the city has not even evaluated yet.
But back on the westside, neighbors say there are other solutions that should be used before putting something like this in their backyards. “The city has a lot of property that they could develop for that purpose. There’s a lot of empty buildings in Albuquerque that the city could use rather than coming to neighborhoods like ours.”
According to the city’s website, there are five more applications for Safe Outdoor Spaces, either under or awaiting review.