Unhoused encampment returns to Central Avenue business: ‘Because the mayor is not enforcing public nuisance laws, they are free to break them’

vagrants camping out on central with no consequences

By Paige Wagenknecht

Oct 30, 2023

Businesses along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue are experiencing a constant influx of unhoused citizens despite intervention from the city and law enforcement. 

Community activist Colleen Aycock said she was surprised to see five encampments with 10 to 15 people each behind Church’s Texas Chicken (10230 Central Ave. SE) after the city and Albuquerque Police Department had previously removed their belongings. 

“They crushed a sofa, two recliners, multiple chairs, and three shopping carts,” Aycock said. “The homeless people ran away.”

“They’re dragging new carts. It’s easy to get carts around here,” she said. 

Aycock attributes the recent surge in activity to free bus service and the New Mexico State Fair at Expo New Mexico on San Pedro Drive. 

“They can go anywhere they want on the bus, so if somebody routes them out of one place, they can go somewhere else and set up more permanent camps anywhere,” Aycock said. “They’re coming from the fairgrounds on Louisiana and Central because they’re cleaning out the homeless, and they’re all coming up east.”

Albuquerque’s rising unhoused population and correlating rise in crime is not a new issue for the city. A multitude of reports highlight the significant increase in homelessness in Albuquerque, and New Mexico at large, with a 48% hike reported in 2023, KRQE reports.

Mayor Tim Keller is criticized for having policies that exacerbate the crisis. Proposed solutions like the Housing Forward ABQ Plan and Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) are said to favor investors over residents.

Keller also said in a press conference that he would not enforce specific laws against the unhoused and that the city is prepared to provide emergency services, which always translates to permanent provisions, Carla Sonntag, president and CEO of New Mexico Business Coalition and Better Together New Mexico, said.

“Because the mayor is not enforcing public nuisance laws, they are free to break them,” Sonntag said. “These include indecent exposure, littering, noise ordinance violations, public intoxication, loitering, disorderly conduct, and trespass.”

Sonntag said that when these laws are not enforced, more severe crimes follow, such as sexual assault, battery, theft, vandalism, homicide, open public drug use and shoplifting. As a result, The city’s crime rate has skyrocketed and is out of control, she said. 

And the business community is feeling the effects. 

“Businesses are out hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the related crimes listed,” Sonntag said. “They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars passing for their own security; copper theft has increased where they are stripping copper wire from electrical systems. 

“The business is usually shut down for several days or weeks to get it replaced. One business owner reported today that they were hit several times, costing them $145,000 in four months,” she said. 

Aycock argues that this is also a health issue and said she would like the city to identify unhoused people who have hepatitis and tuberculosis, but civil liberties are an obstacle. 

“The city says they can only ask people, and if they don’t want to participate in a health intake, then they don’t have to,” she said. “We have anti-vagrancy laws. You can’t be a vagrant, but we don’t have enough police to enforce the vagrancy laws and follow those citations.”