Downtown Albuquerque business owner deals with homeless camps

Downtown Albuquerque business owner deals with homeless camps

When Dana Benjamin spotted a pile of ash on her way to work late last week, she knew it had been an eventful night.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – When Dana Benjamin spotted a pile of ash on her way to work late last week, she knew it had been an eventful night.

“It’s like, oh, wow, that is ashes from that tent,” said Dana Benjamin, owner of Marble Street Studios. 

That tent was on fire hours earlier. Surveillance video shows it from two angles. It goes up in flames, one person runs off, and police and fire show up about 10 minutes later. 

“That’s it and fires out, and there you go. There’s a giant mess, you can see it’s all melted and disgusting over there. And they’re gone for one day, and the next day they’re back,” said Benjamin. 

Benjamin has been dealing with this cycle for two decades. She moved her photography and videography business to a location blocks from Albuquerque’s Railyards in the early 2000s. 

“It’s a constant problem. Everything between people doing drugs on the corner by my mailbox, to there’s people out there yelling and screaming. They steal our trash cans and our recycling bins and fill them up with God knows what,” Benjamin said. 

She says the Railyards construction and new businesses in the neighborhood are positive signs, but progress is slow.

She rarely brings her children to the office out of fear of what they might witness.

“It’s very frustrating, especially when, like, in the middle of the night they’re lighting massive fires, lighting their tents on fire, which are like 30 feet from my building. It’s very nerve racking. It’s very frustrating,” said Benjamin. 

She took those frustrations to her newly-elected city councilor, Joaquin Baca.

“While we need to support our unhoused, we also really need to protect the private property rights of our residents and our businesses. That’s important,” said Baca.

He shares a priority list with other local leaders and state lawmakers. 

“The Big Three, of course, are crime, housing, and homeless,” said Baca. 

The governor asked for $500 million in the budget for affordable housing. Wednesday’s proposed budget from lawmakers includes less than half of that. But Baca says he’ll accept anything.

“How are we going to access that? What avenues do we have? What, how do those pots break down to affordable market rate support?” Baca said. 

Another bill in the Senate aims to create a state homelessness reduction division. One division director would communicate with local and federal experts to come up with legislation and budgets. 

Another bill would establish new rules for soliciting on public roads and sidewalks.

“I just hope we can get it figured out. I mean, it’s a beautiful city, and there’s a lot going on. We are growing and finally getting a name for ourselves that’s not Breaking Bad,” said Benjamin.  

Benjamin says her one ask of the city is more lighting on her corner at 1st and Iron. It could take a while, but she says she’s willing to go through the process for a couple of streetlights.