Sunday, May 28, 2023

Homeless Sue City for Damage to Temporary Homes and Belongings

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 A woman with PTSD and learning disabilities was forced to leave formerly safe Coronado Park after the city shut it down without notice. The police couldn't tell her where to go instead. She left her personal effects thinking she could pick them up later, only to find that the city had carted them away, including her bicycle.

After losing his job and separating from his wife, a man was homeless for three years. The city kicked him out of Coronado Park and confiscated his belongings, including a camp stove for heat in winter and irreplaceable family photos. “They suddenly closed Coronado Park and threw my stuff in a garbage truck. I begged them to give it back, but they acted like I wasn’t even there,” said the man.

A husband and wife were evicted from subsidized housing when the manager stole their money and they found out they owed $1,600. The wife has severe mental illness and her husband has epilepsy and other medical problems. He has an income from Social Security disability payments and she was working as a delivery service for her father's customers. Together, they could not afford housing in Albuquerque nor do they qualify for additional supplements. They live in a temporary shelter made of tarps and shopping carts with their 20-year-old son.

“With temperatures dropping, people are at risk of death from exposure to the elements. It is morally unacceptable for the city to punish people with no housing or shelter for engaging in life-sustaining activities,” said Laura Schauer Ives, partner at the law firm of Ives and Flores. “Instead of offering services like affordable housing, employment opportunities, and treatment for disabilities, the city is kicking them out of their homes.”

The law firm of Ives and Flores, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM), the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP), and attorney Nick Davis filed a lawsuit today on behalf of unhoused people living in Albuquerque to stop the City of Albuquerque from unlawfully destroying encampments and property, jailing, and fining people.     

On August 17, 2022 the City of Albuquerque closed Coronado Park, where unsheltered New Mexicans found community and a place to sleep at night. City officials fenced off the park, forced people staying there to leave and disposed of their belongings. This act displaced dozens of unsheltered New Mexicans, many of which still do not have a safe place to stay. 

The city acknowledges that there are not sufficient beds in the city’s existing shelters.  

Several of the plaintiffs state that living on the street was safer than staying at the Westside Shelter, which has black mold and an infestation of bed bugs. If people find other spots to make camp, the police move them along without helping them to find another place to stay.

“The housing crisis impacts everyone but disproportionately hurts people with mental health and other disabilities,” said Maria Griego, director of economic equity at NMCLP. “Being forced to move and having belongings confiscated increases instability, making it even harder to find work, get medications, see a social worker, or find permanent housing.” 

“Criminalizing homelessness does nothing to address its root causes. In fact, it exacerbates the problem. We know the solution – affordable housing. The city just needs to find the will and the courage to make it happen,” said Maria Martinez Sanchez, legal director at ACLU-NM.

Do the lawyers believe this lawsuit will move the city council to resolve the back-and-forth they are going through with the mayor about campsites with services for the unhoused?

“We hope it will push the city to provide housing and services as its present conduct is inhumane and unconstitutional,” said Attorney Laura Ives.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here

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