Commentary

City of ABQ and APD continue relentless displacement of unsheltered communities

Rather than receiving housing vouchers or social workers, unsheltered community members in Albuquerque are being swept out of sight

February 28, 2022 4:10 am

A blanket on a freezing February morning in 2022, left on a sidewalk in Downtown Albuquerque near a cluster of religiously based services for people without homes. (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

As affordable housing across Albuquerque is being snatched up by real estate tycoons looking to turn our homes into AirBnBs and desert-oasis retreats for Netflix crews and other tourists, a hostile, classist mindset is taking root in our city. 

Houselessness — the act of being unsheltered — is being demonized more and more as the affordable housing crisis spirals out of control. Multi-generation New Mexicans are being priced out of their homes by out-of-state investment firms, moratoriums placed during the pandemic are being lifted and evictions are unfolding, leaving hundreds of individuals and families without a home. 

In a tiny NM courtroom, evictions begin again

Some can access existing shelters, but many are left to face the elements with tents, sleeping bags, the warmth of a Sterno can and the support of those around them. Rather than aiding these community members during their times of crisis, our police have continued to perpetuate their culture of violence on some of our most vulnerable community members.

Our city got a brief glimpse into just how inhuman and brutal our police force is when video was released of officers killing a man without a home who’d been living in the Foothills. The images sparked protests in Albuquerque and outrage nationwide.

It’s been almost eight years since Boyd was killed, and strikingly little has been changed. Rather than investing in the resources and programs that would help our struggling communities, the Keller administration, which has continued to pour resources into our failed police department, is now leading a violent displacement operation. 

Our city is carrying out regular sweeps of several locations across the city and displacing dozens of our unsheltered neighbors on a routine basis — uprooting their existence, trashing tents, and destroying people’s last personal belongings in the process of “beautifying” our city. 

Albuquerque clears out encampment near Eubank and Interstate 40

Unsheltered people are not eyesores that need to be swept into the far corners of our city — they are some of the most vulnerable members of our community who have been failed by every existing system in our state.

Many people rant about the supposed abundance of resources for struggling families and individuals across our city but aren’t aware of the many barriers that exist to accessing them. Shelters, which are usually low capacity, aren’t always the safest option. Not every shelter will house families, many shelters are strictly for either men or women, and often they force their own religious beliefs on those seeking their aid. 

The stark reality is that Albuquerque does not have sufficient affordable housing or the resources to help those who have fallen through the gaps. Rather than facing this reality head-on and investing in the solutions our communities need, city officials within Family and Community Services, Albuquerque Community Services, the N.M. Department of Transportation, State Police and the Albuquerque Police Department continue to sweep our unsheltered community members off of the streets, treating them as disposable and continuing this cycle of violence. 

For months now, these state-sanctioned forms of violence have continued with little to no opposition from elected officials. I have personally contacted senior staff members of Mayor Tim Keller’s Office, and they continue to claim that they have absolutely no knowledge of these sweeps despite them taking place on a routine basis. 

Albuquerque police still sweeping homeless camps, despite CDC guidelines

I’m not the only one asking questions, but this seems to be the response anyone outraged enough to call the Mayor’s Office continues to receive. This likely isn’t what voters had in mind when they heard Keller’s campaign promises to address our affordable housing crisis. 

The displacement and dehumanization of our unsheltered community is the newest chapter in APD’s long history in egregious abuses of force. In 2014, the U.S Department of Justice conducted a federal investigation in which they saw for themselves the “culture of aggression” that the people of Albuquerque have been enduring for years. 

After the DOJ investigation, the city of Albuquerque agreed to at least 276 requirements to address the findings of their investigation and ultimately prevent APD from killing unarmed people. While many of these requirements have been met on paper, little changed in practice. 

Despite having one of the most reformed police departments in the nation, APD remains the most violent police force in the nation. In 2017, a full three years after the DOJ investigation, Albuquerque became second in the nation for deadly police shootings. In 2018, we rose to the first in the nation, and we’ve remained in the top two ever since. 

These relentless sweeps and continued dehumanization of unsheltered community members are not only just the latest reminders of APD’s unsettling history, but they also remind us that not everyone in our communities looks to law enforcement for aid or protection. Far too often, our officers are the ones perpetuating the violence and harm. 

We must do better for everyone and start developing systems of community care that value the life and dignity of everyone — not just those who have property worth protecting.

In order to start addressing the symptoms of our city’s affordable housing crisis in a meaningful way that saves lives, we must first acknowledge this crisis as the result of larger systemic failures, not individual personal decisions.

Sub: Help out

If you’re looking for a place to help pitch in during these harsh colder months, ABQ Mutual Aid, A Light In The Night, The Hook Up, and New Mexico Harm Reduction Collaborative are all volunteer-led efforts that have been saving lives here in our city. Each of these collectives has been out on the ground multiple days every week, distributing winter gear, food, water, and other supplies to those who need it. 

Rapidly shifting our perspective from one of saviorism and charity to one of solidarity and community care will not only allow us to begin addressing the housing crisis in a meaningful way but also prepare us to lean on each other for support as we face challenges like climate catastrophe and economic recession in our near future.

Collective community care is human nature, until the recent rise of hyper-individualism, supporting each other through times of crisis — mutual aid — has been our survival tactic for thousands of years.

Don’t just stop at calling the Mayor’s Office to express your outrage, there’s so much that all of us can do while we continue to pressure our city and state officials to halt these sweeps and invest in affordable housing in other resources.

Many of us have the financial resources and time to pick up jackets, socks, gloves, blankets, sterno cans, hand warmers, sleeping bags, or tents to distribute to folx living outside in our neighborhoods — or we can donate funds to those who are able to. Rather than calling the police, we can call local assistance programs and connect them with those who need their help. 

Whether it’s through financial donations or dedicating our time and energy, we all must remain committed to defending the humanity of our unsheltered neighbors as they endure these violent attacks week after week.

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Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo
Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo

​Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo is a queer, two-spirit Indigenous climate activist and award-winning community organizer in unceded Tiwa Territory (Albuquerque, NM). Coming from the frontline Indigenous communities of Laguna and Isleta Pueblos, Jonathan has always understood the important role that environmental stewardship has in the complex identity of Indigeneity. Throughout his 19 years of life, Jonathan has been involved in countless organizations and social movements throughout the state of New Mexico and across the United States. In October of 2016, Jonathan’s family traveled to Standing Rock to deliver food and supplies to Water Protectors on the front lines against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Throughout 2019, Jonathan organized several school climate strikes across Albuquerque where thousands of students united to call for urgent action from local and state officials. Currently, Jonathan serves as the Chairmxn of the Board of Directors of Pueblo Action Alliance, a grassroots organization working on the frontlines of combating environmental racism and ecological destruction here in New Mexico.

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