Albuquerque clears out encampment near Eubank and Interstate 40

The operation started a day earlier than when residents say they were told to leave

By: - February 24, 2022 5:00 am

Jodi Mitchel stands in front of his tent along Interstate 40. (Photo by Shaun Griswold/SourceNM)

Jodi Mitchel had just set up his new eight person tent on an embankment off Interstate 40 near Eubank, and slept in it one night with his wife and two friends. 

Tuesday morning he was disassembling it after a New Mexico State Police officer woke up to tell him he needed to leave the area or face arrest. 

“Everywhere we go they follow us and they throw us out,” Mitchel said. “We just set up yesterday, maybe we’ll go that way to get further away from them.”

Mitchel was one of about a dozen unhoused people who had established a camp in a small sliver of dirt between Los Altos Park and the interstate. People living in the area said the city notified them to vacate by Wednesday, however the eviction started a day early.

Uniformed state police officers were in the area to move people out and block potential traffic because the land is managed by the state. They did not make any arrests. 

The overall operation was managed by the sanitation department at the city of Albuquerque. Several city workers hauled trash and debris from the area. Their only delay was from a mutual aid group volunteering to move items people had abandoned when the police arrived. 

Blankets, tents, documents and other small items were discarded but the mutual aid group did not want to see these tossed into one of the two city dump trucks that were on site. 

Shopping carts are filled with personal belonging and lined up to be moved to another location by a mutual aid group. Many residents fled when police arrived for fear of arrest. (Photo by Shaun Griswold/SourceNM)

“This is how the state creates violence onto unsheltered folks,” Isabelle Fernandez said. “They give them a notice to move, or not one at all. And they either come early, or again without notice. And they are not following their own laws or rules.”

People who were removed from the property said the city gave a notification to leave with a deadline. They said the city arrived a day before they were asked to move.

Members from the mutual aid group moved several shopping carts filled with personal belongings about a quarter mile to a parking lot next to the softball fields at Los Altos Park. There, several of the people who stayed at the camps sorted through their belongings and kept an eye on the stuff that others who left for fear of arrest. 

“They lose their IDs, they lose paperwork, numbers that they need for their caseworkers, so that they can get housing so that they can get assistance,” Fernandez said. “It’s very important that we don’t just come in and throw out people’s stuff carelessly; the city employees need to be going through every little bit. And they need to, they need to be like not throwing away people’s paperwork. “

The city of Albuquerque did not respond to comments about why they were conducting encampment sweeps. The move goes against the recommendations from the Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention which says,“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

The CDC updated its protocols on how to handle these cases on February 10, 2022 but did not alter its guidance on clearing encampments.

A sanitation truck blocks access for people during an encampment sweep by Los Altos Park in Albuquerque. (Photo by Shaun Griswold/SourceNM)

A spokesperson for the city did not answer a question if the city is following the CDC guidelines. According to the city’s policy for responding to encampments that was published October 2021, they argue, “There are legitimate public safety reasons for removing or cleaning up encampments, such as the safety of unsheltered people, unsanitary conditions, and public health concerns.”

With the presence of sanitation workers to clean up trash, that is seemingly what the city had designed the operation for on Tuesday. 

However, the next line in the policy says the city must provide adequate notice of removal, due process for retrieving property, assessment of individual needs for health services and whether there are enough shelter beds for people who are removed from encampments. 

The city did not follow through on any of those requirements for the sweep at Los Altos, residents and advocates say. The notice for removal was moved a day ahead, no one was offered an alternate place to stay, no service providers were present and without the effort from the mutual aid group, everyone’s personal property was set to be trashed. 

“Now we gotta figure out where to go,” Mitchel said. “Maybe we’ll go set up in the ditch, go down to one of those tunnels. That’s disgusting, it’s horrible down there. You don’t want to live down there.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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