Old Town sees uptick in drug use, homelessness

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Some say the problems that come with homelessness – in one of the most treasured parts of the Duke City – are getting worse.

“I have an individual smoking fentanyl in the bathroom, public restroom, right? I have someone that walks into the post office and wants to shave in there. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s the state of mind they’re in,” said Pete Kassetas. 

The former state police chief turned Old Town business operator is again raising the alarm.

“I think it’s a surge issue, right? The harder the city clamps down on, for instance, individuals along the Central corridor, they’re going to find other places to go,” Kassetas said.

The city is no longer allowing large encampments, and says they are constantly responding to calls about tents.

“At the end of the day if it’s not a felony, we know, I know, I’m a realist. I understand that it’s probably not going to get looked at by not only the police department, but the DA,” Kassetas said. 

An apparent increased police presence in Old Town Monday, and newly-hired private security paid for by the businesses, are trying to address some of the issues.

But frustrations are growing.

“It is a compounding problem, but it has to be addressed, or it’s only going to get worse,” said Kassetas. 

What about the new Albuquerque Community Safety Department? And what do the homeless folks say themselves?

Albuquerque Community Services Department

KOB 4 talked to ACS about the type of problems they are seeing, and how it’s falling on their newest group of first responders.

“The biggest factor of that is we don’t have enough places to take people,” said ACS Director Mariela Ruiz-Angel.

Ruiz-Angel said they can only do so much.

“When people don’t want to go somewhere, ’cause people reject services all the time. We don’t have a policy in place that says: your cognitive ability to make a decision is not quite there, so we’re going to force transport you. That is not in place right now,” said Ruiz-Angel. 

Unless someone is a danger to themselves or others, or agrees to leave, they can’t do anything. 

One woman KOB 4 spoke to – who did not want to go on camera – says she’s in and out of the shelter, and back and forth between Albuquerque and the Navajo Nation. 

“I have compassion for people that are homeless. But, I don’t have compassion for people that are stealing, that are causing problems, that are doing drugs. They need to figure their s*** out and go somewhere else,” Kassetas said.

Meanwhile, the Gateway Center continues to slowly come online. Currently, it is housing 44 women, and the city plans to start bringing in men soon.