City workers hang up a “Park Closed” sign on new fencing surrounding Coronado Park on Aug. 17. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)
Finding safe and stable housing for the former residents of a now-closed Albuquerque encampment will require more effort from the city’s service organizations, as those who needed help “were not well served by traditional outreach methods,” according to a team who surveyed them.
City staff and Albuquerque StreetConnect, a Heading Home program, surveyed 94 people who were staying at the park on Aug. 1 and 2, a few weeks before the city closed the park. It was the second such survey in about a year.
The team asked residents about their dealings with service organizations and government programs, their time in Albuquerque, their health problems and other demographic information.
Taken together, StreetConnect said the findings suggest the path forward for the residents requires additional help from organizations trying to serve a population with greater needs than they’re used to.
“For many individuals, the expectation that they will proactively keep in touch with service organizations is inconsistent with their illnesses or capacities,” the StreetOutreach survey concludes. “This responsibility must fall on the service organizations.”
The survey found that the 94 people at the park were younger, on average, than the group surveyed at the park last year. This year, 59% of residents were younger than 45, versus 38% last year. A greater number had spent fewer than five years in Albuquerque, as well (35% this year, 23% last year).
Five of those surveyed were military veterans.
The residents were asked where they would go when the park closed. The most common response (38%) was that they would find another place to sleep that’s not a shelter, including bus stops, cemeteries, freeway ramps and underpasses. Twenty-one said they’d go to a shelter.
The surveyors also found multiple behavioral and medical issues in a group they broadly described as “high acuity,” including post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or an intellectual disability. In total, 41 respondents had some sort of disability. Two people have paralysis. One has cancer.
As part of the outreach, city officials said 29 people left the park voluntarily. Of them 21 received motel vouchers, four were taken to the Albuquerque Opportunity Center men’s shelter, two were sent to a hospital to receive medical care, and two got help with transportation to their home city outside of Albuquerque, according to a news release.
The surveyors also concluded that one of the “most significant bottlenecks to reducing homelessness in our community” is helping those who have housing vouchers actually use them. The vouchers allow them to pay rent subsidized by the government, but city landlords have only recently been required by law to accept them as a form of rent payment. The surveyors said the city and organizations should team up to prioritize finding housing for those who have vouchers and the willingness to find a place.
“Some programs have a resistance to working with a high-need population due to inexperience or insufficient training,” the surveyors wrote.
The single biggest need residents identified was housing. More than 75% of those surveyed said it was their primary need. No more than 11% of respondents identified income, health, food and employment as their primary need, though some of those surveyed selected more than one need.
In July, Mayor Tim Keller announced the closure of the park, one that has served as an encampment for at least seven years and was home to between 75 and 125 people at any given time. Some people had lived there for years.
The mayor cited public safety threats to residents and city employees. An Albuquerque police official said the department has been called to the park or near it hundreds of times this year. Police recently arrested a man they said was the “self-appointed mayor” of Coronado Park for alleged murder, saying he and a small group of residents ran drugs and exerted control over the park.
It’s not yet clear what will come of the park. It could become a training facility for the fire station next door or be a site on which new affordable housing is built, Keller has said.
It could also reopen as a city-sanctioned encampment, though legislation allowing for that is in flux at the Albuquerque City Council.
The City Council voted 6-3 to prohibit “safe outdoor spaces” from being created in city limits, though Keller last week vetoed the legislation. The Council could override that veto at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.
If sanctioned encampments are deemed legal, Coronado Park could reopen as one, Keller has previously suggested.
The survey asked park residents what they thought of that possibility. On a scale from 1 to 5, residents were asked if they’d be willing to stay at Coronado Park “if there are rules and security and limits on the number of belongings you have.”
More than half – 49 people – said “5” for “very willing.” Another 17 chose “3” or “4.” Just 15 said “1” or “2.”
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