City official answers questions on homeless encampments in Albuquerque | KOB 4

City official answers questions on homeless encampments in Albuquerque

Spencer Schacht
Updated: December 01, 2021 04:30 PM
Created: November 30, 2021 05:46 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Homelessness in Albuquerque is a growing problem. Earlier this week, we highlighted the issue some parents are having near I-40 and Coors. They told KOB 4 they no longer feel comfortable letting their kids walk to school by a homeless camp.

But KOB 4 found out, it’s not just the neighbors who are frustrated with the city.

The director of the city’s Solid Waste Department, Matthew Whelan, explains it is a long process from when the city gets a complaint about a homeless camp to when it gets cleared out – if it ever gets cleared out.

“I don’t have an exact number of how many complaints we have received in this area, but we have received several we have spent time in this area cleaning up encampments,” Whelan said.

But KOB 4 discovered, the camp is still there. With this specific camp near the I-40 walking bridge, clearing it out gets even more complicated because it’s not just city land they're dealing with – the area is also owned by the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

“So, when it’s an area where we have jurisdiction we can go address but when it’s an area where there are multiple jurisdictions whether it be another agency or private property we have to work in conjunction with those people to get those encampments cleaned up,” Whelan said.

Whelan explains the only time they can immediately clear out a camp is if it is putting the campers or community members in danger. Otherwise, there are multiple steps the city has to follow.

“We work in conjunction with the family and community services department and Albuquerque community safety so when an encampment is called in family and community services will send one of their outreach providers to go and speak to the people to see what services they might want what services we are offering what services are available to them,” Whelan said.

After the assessment, people have 72 hours to clear the area. But camps that are cleared don’t always stay that way.

“You cannot criminalize homelessness or people experiencing homelessness so whenever we go through and clear a homeless encampment all we can do is clear it at that point but there is no law that prohibits them from coming back to that area,” Whelan said.

So the neighbors and the homeless population are stuck in a cycle right now of filing 311 reports, getting camps cleared out, then the camps moving back in.

But Whelan did say there is a solution on the way – The Gateway Center opening next year.

“I think it is a huge first step in addressing the problem and making it a lasting solution as opposed to just a temporary solution,” Whelan said.

So KOB 4 asked him if he thought what the city was doing right now is a temporary solution?

“I would say what we have right now with the West Side emergency shelter is a lasting solution if people utilize it, it's great but we just need more resources, and that is what the city of Albuquerque is doing, and this administration is doing by offering more resources like The Gateway Center and trying to offer more resources through housing programs,” Whelan said.

But the key to being a lasting solution is utilizing it.

Whelan added on average they clear 20 to 30 encampments a week and they have a growing list of complaints they have yet to be addressed. KOB 4 asked to see that list but was told to file an IPRA request to get it. That information will be shared as soon as it becomes available. 

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