Last Tuesday, local and state officials along with local organizations came together for a Town Hall in an effort to address public safety in Albuquerque.
“You’re not going to hear from from all of the elected officials tonight. They want to hear from you,” said Alicia Manzano, chief of staff for Majority Floor Leader Javier Martinez.
After a whole group meeting, organizers moved to separate attendees into three separate pods based on their public safety concerns and what they wished to discuss. Attendees could choose to join a group on auto theft, property crime or homelessness.
The proposed format was met with swift criticism from some. “There’s so many people here that want to speak out, but when they separate them in three different groups, they can’t express themselves,” City Councilor Louie Sanchez said. Sanchez also stated that the Town Hall should have addressed violent crime as well. “Violent crime is where people lose their lives. And we need to stop that. That’s one of the biggest issues,” he said.
Despite some disapproval, the groups were eventually formed. The group to discuss Albuquerque’s ongoing homeless crisis was by far the largest. Equipped with notebooks, papers and pens, residents had come prepared to share their opinions.
According to the Urban Institute, from 2013-2019 homelessness quadrupled in Albuquerque. An estimated 567 people were living on the street that year.
“I’m here because I want to be a voice in helping the city to figure out what the solution is. And for the city to know that the solution is not to shove a safe open space right in the middle of a neighborhood,” said Alex Klebenow, president of the West Mesa Neighborhood Association.
So far, the city had only approved one safe outdoor space since the city council passed the zoning legislation in June. However, in August, the council passed legislation to reverse the policy on these spaces. Mayor Keller has vetoed this reversal, stating, “We need every tool at our disposal to confront the unhoused crisis and we need to be willing to act courageously.”
However, those like Klebenow are afraid that the safe outdoor spaces may negatively impact their neighborhood if the encampments are close by.
Kathy Adams, one of the Town Hall attendees, was happy to hear from experts on what the city is doing to combat homelessness, but felt that mindsets needed to change. “We have a lot of people who are talking about what is going to work for them, not what is going to work for people who are experiencing homelessness. And I was just disappointed in that because we just can’t do that anymore.”
Amid the various opinions and ideas that sometimes offset each other, one thing was clear: Albuquerque residents are tired of a homeless crisis that is plaguing the city and hope to see a change with the help of local leaders.
“I think that city council resolutions are going to come out of this. Funding and focus for county commissioners is going to come out of this. I know that state legislation is going to come out of it,” said State Rep Joy Garratt (Dist-29). Garratt emphasized that community conversations about these topics are important. She said that more Town Halls like this one will be coming in the future.