Albuquerque hotels take homelessness issue to city council

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Business owners in Albuquerque’s midtown area are speaking up about issues plaguing their properties. They took their concerns about homelessness to city council just last week.

Joani Jones has worked at the Crown Plaza Hotel for 18 years, she moved into the general manager position just three months ago. Jones’ new job came with the responsibility to tackle issues on the property, like homelessness.

"I love Albuquerque, and apologizing for being here in Albuquerque and being a hotelier is really hard,” said Jones.

She said the hotel spends about $20,000 a month on 24/7 security, but it’s not enough.

"It’s gotten worse and the homeless have gotten a little more violent. The panhandling our guests in the parking lot, the you know, coming into the hotel,” said Jones.

She and another hotelier in the same midtown area – from the Suburban Extended Stay off Menaul – took their concerns to the Albuquerque City Council last week.

"It started in the summer with just being basically loitering, I have caught young people in our stairways doing drugs, I find needles on the property,” said Veronica Hermann, director of operations of the Suburban Extended Stay.

"This is not the lasting impression we should have on the families and the travelers that are driving through our state,” said Jones.

Meanwhile, the city’s newest branch of the public safety department, Albuquerque Community Safety, is working to chip away at some of these issues. Responders have been to more than 500 calls since the branch’s inception in early September.

"Our police and our fire department have been for many years already highly just overused for situations that have backgrounds and underlying issues in mental and behavioral health,” said Mariela Ruiz-Angel, director of the Community Safety Department.

Ruiz-Angel said a large percentage of those calls so far have been about the homeless population.

"It has allowed us to really be out with those communities and really working with those families. Really to even help with the basic necessities that they need like food and water,” said Ruiz-Angel.

But the responders also realize that housing could be just one of several resources people need.

"We’re really trying to look at things from ‘what do we address first’ even if we put someone in housing if they can’t sustain that because they have mental or behavioral health issues it would put them right back on the street,” Ruiz-Angel said.

The department is actively hiring, and plans to have more units on the street soon. Jones can’t wait to see the effects of their work in her part of town.

"It’s really heartbreaking to tell our guests, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry you had this experience when you came through Albuquerque,’” said Jones.

The recently passed public safety bond includes $7 million in funding for an Albuquerque community safety hub in the International District. Responders will be based there, and it will be open to the community.