OUR TAKE: Tent Cities Are Not the Answer

Last week, the Albuquerque Journal reported that two local leaders, Albuquerque City Councilor Diane Gibson and Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, are advocating for sanctioned encampments for people experiencing homelessness.

The camps would be authorized areas where people can set up tents or other structures and access facilities like bathrooms and showers. Proponents argue that unhoused people have legitimate reasons for turning down shelters or other programs, and that encampments may be equipped with lockable, aluminum structures to give people other options. They also say these strategies may become “necessary evils” as New Mexico, like other states, faces a likely eviction crisis once eviction moratoriums lift.

But the proposal comes just a few months after the opening of a Tiny Home Village of 30 units offering transitional housing, and on the heels of the City’s recent $15 million acquisition of the Gibson Medical Center that will one day support 150 to 175 beds and on-site services. The City of Albuquerque continues to make significant investments into other shelters around the city and other support services. Need continues to exceed resources, but it’s imperative that options for people in need be good ones – good for individuals and for the greater community.

Chamber leaders oppose the encampments proposal, emphasizing that encampments fail to directly address Albuquerque’s real homelessness challenges and would likely grow larger and proliferate..

“Creating a large, sanctioned homeless camp in the city – that’s likely to only grow in size, fill up, and expand to other areas – is a deeply concerning idea,” said GACC Board Chair Kyle Beasley, GACC President & CEO Terri Cole, and GACC Downtown Transformation Chairman Del Esparza, in a joint statement. “And it’s wishful thinking to believe it would either (a) help solve our community’s homelessness problem over the long-term or (b) help address the serious image challenges and public safety concerns that – right or wrong – homelessness contributes to in our city.”

“Our community needs more legitimate overnight sheltering that is coupled with well-coordinated and on-site service provision. We have to do more and better in this regard,” they continued. “Throwing up our hands instead and creating a city campground – or campgrounds – for the homeless is not an adequate substitute.”

A Journal editorial published today on the issue agrees, citing the unintended consequences of increased violence among the homeless population and a rise in people sleeping outside when such encampments were allowed to spring up in Austin, Texas. And the Editorial Board also points out the elephant in the room: no one wants an encampment in their backyard.

Some proposals are worth exploring or even trying. But other cities’ negative experiences and Albuquerque’s forward movement on other, evidence-based solutions should be all we need to make the right decision. Sanctioned encampments for people experiencing homelessness won’t solve our city’s problems – and will probably make them worse.

Read the Albuquerque Journal’s full story here; find the editorial here

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