Judge sides with ACLU about Albuquerque’s treatment of homeless people

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The City of Albuquerque is facing legal repercussions for its ongoing treatment of homeless people. Judge Joshua Allison is giving the city six weeks to clean up its act.

The temporary injunction argues Albuquerque is essentially punishing unhoused people by seizing or destroying their belongings without any notice, ability to challenge that decision, or opportunities to reclaim their items.

The ACLU of New Mexico released police lapel video showing a city worker throwing a homeless person’s tent in the back of a garbage truck while that person was away. Attorneys say incidents like this are far too common and violate both the New Mexico and U.S. constitutions.

The judge’s order clearly states the city has not provided enough shelter beds for the growing number of homeless people in Albuquerque. According to the Eighth Amendment, the city cannot punish homeless people for occupying public spaces with their belongings.

“Under no circumstances is a government able to destroy people’s belongings without notice and procedure,” said Laura Shauer Ives, an attorney with the ACLU. “And that’s what they’ve been doing routinely. They can’t do that. They can’t do that under the Constitution. It’s not – it’s not even a hard question under the Constitution.”

The judge’s ruling says starting Nov. 1, the city can no longer arrest or threaten homeless people for occupying public spaces, unless they are obstructing walkways, roads, or are on public school property.

The city must also obtain a warrant and provide a written notice to homeless people before seizing their property. They must also give them 72 hours to challenge that decision.

The ruling also says if items are taken away from homeless people, they must have an opportunity to reclaim those items.

The order does allow the city to take immediate action if there’s criminal activity.

A spokesperson for the City of Albuquerque’s legal department shared the following statement in response:

“The City’s outreach staff provide notice to those illegally camping before they are required to move and offer to connect people to shelter and services. This dangerous ruling would severely limit our ability to keep our city clean and safe, while getting people the help they need. We intend to challenge the decision to protect our ability to enforce necessary public safety measures.”