The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines in March that cities should not break up homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, because that can cause people to disperse and increase the spread of the coronavirus. But some advocates say police and city officials in Albuquerque have been clearing encampments as recently as Friday, April 3.
The City of Albuquerque doesn’t allow people to camp on public property, and that policy has not changed in the coronavirus pandemic. "Allowing an encampment to be established and to grow presents other public health concerns," said Lisa Huval, Deputy Director of Housing and Homelessness for the City of Albuquerque.
Some people experiencing homelessness say city officials have forced them to leave encampments with as little as 10 minute’s notice, causing them to lose possessions, according to a video posted by Street Safe New Mexico.
Huval says city policy is to give people 24 hours to vacate public property, but private property is a different matter. "Certainly if a private property owner asked [the Albuquerque Police Department] to remove an encampment on private property, then APD will respond to that," she said.
The city is looking for places where it can put portable restrooms and handwashing stations, since facilities like community centers and libraries are now closed, she adds. That move would be in line with CDC recommendations.
Some community members have already set up handwashing stations in Albuquerque's International District.
Huval says her department is also working with street outreach providers like First Nations Community HealthSource and Healthcare for the Homeless to offer medical services to people without housing.
This is an excerpt from a longer interview that originally aired on our show Your NM Government. Catch it every weeknight at 7:30 p.m. here on KUNM, or find it wherever you get your podcasts. Your NM Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS and the Santa Fe Reporter.