Parents raise concerns over homeless camp near middle school

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Since Coronado Park closed last week, other parks in the metro area have seen an increase in people who are homeless. That includes Phil Chacon Park in southeast Albuquerque, located just feet away from Van Buren Middle School.

Thursday afternoon, Albuquerque Public School officials confirmed claims that multiple individuals have ventured onto campus during school hours. They also confirmed an increase in needles found near the school’s campus.

A KOB 4 crew reported several encampments in the area, piles of trash, broken glass and needles at Phil Chacon Park, as well as on the sidewalks surrounding Van Buren Middle School. One parent our crew spoke with in the school pick-up line said she is frustrated and beyond concerned for her child’s safety.

“It makes me feel like helpless, like I can’t do anything to help clean up the community because I don’t want to touch it,” she said. “It just it makes me feel like the kids are unsafe.”

“I have no problem with being homeless, or being around the homeless or anything, but they should not be around schools,” she added.

The principal of Van Buren Middle School sent the following letter to parents Thursday afternoon:

Dear Van Buren Community,

Keeping our students safe is an absolute priority at Van Buren Middle School. With that in mind, I am writing to inform you about a few issues we have had lately with the homeless population that hangs out in the park near our school.

On two occasions since school began, individuals have tried to come onto campus, only to be quickly escorted off by school personnel. Another time, our police officer asked an individual near campus to move further away. In all cases, the individuals have quickly complied, and none have come in contact with our students.

We also found some needles near our campus. School staff has been sweeping the campus perimeter before school to ensure students don’t come across these needles. In case they do, please talk to your student about the dangers of touching a needle or any strange object they find. If they see something suspicious, remind them to tell an adult immediately. I’m sorry that you have to have such a conversation with your child, but I hope that by educating our students about the dangers of needles, we will keep them out of harm’s way. 

I also want to take this opportunity to remind you of safety tips for walking to and from school that you can discuss with your child:

  • Use the buddy system. Students should take friends with them when going places or playing outside.
  • Remind students to check first with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult before going anywhere, helping anyone, accepting anything, or getting in a car.
  • If a stranger approaches a child, the child should take several steps backward, stay out of arm’s reach and run to a safe area. If students are confronted, they should be taught to scream for help.
  • Remind students to avoid alleys and empty lots, houses, or garages. Students should use direct routes between school and home when walking.

We will continue to do everything we can at Van Buren to create a safe and secure environment for students to learn.