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ACLU of New Mexico sues Albuquerque over treatment of homeless

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is suing the city of Albuquerque over its treatment of the city’s homeless population.

Attorneys from the law firm of Ives and Flores, the ACLU-NM and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) filed suit Monday, accusing the state’s largest city of illegally destroying property and encampments for the homeless, as well as jailing and fining them.

“They’re criminalizing those residents, fining them for existing in public spaces and they are also taking their property [that they] need to function within our society and to hopefully transition out of homelessness,” Laura Ives, partner at the law firm of Ives and Flores, told ABC News.

Albuquerque has gotten rid of tents, bed rolls, shopping carts, identification cards and even birth certificates, all things that can help people escape homeless, Ives said.

The ACLU said that the city closed Coronado Park, a place where homeless New Mexicans could sleep at night, by fencing it off, ultimately forcing those staying at the park to leave and got rid of their belongings, according to the suit.

“Unhoused people in Albuquerque make up the city’s most vulnerable population,” the lawsuit reads. “Subject to the harms and indignities of abject poverty, many unhoused people live outdoors, exposed to the extremes of Albuquerque’s climate, to hunger, thirst and to the constant fears and worries that accompany being unsheltered.”

There aren’t enough shelter spaces in Albuquerque for even close to every homeless person to go to the shelters, Ives said, describing the conditions at the shelters as “inhumane.”

The City of Albuquerque did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced in July that the city would revisit its policies addressing homelessness and the encampments.

Albuquerque has designated lots or partial lots that has space for tents, recreational vehicles, and/or light vehicles and can offer social services and support facilities as Safe Outdoor Spaces(SOS).

The city doesn’t consider Coronado Park as an SOS because those spaces cannot be located in parks, according to the city.

Individuals experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque have declined in the last 22 years, according to data from the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH). In 2000, about 2,002 homeless people were living in the city. As of Jan. 31, 2022, that figure sits at 1,311, according to a recent report by NMCEH.

In the first quarter of 2022, rent in Albuquerque increased between 10% and 19.9%, according to the ACLU.

“The housing crisis impacts everyone, but disproportionately hurts people with mental health and other disabilities,” Maria Griego, director of economic equity at NMCLP, said in an ACLU press release. “Being forced to move and having belongings confiscated increases instability, making it even harder to find work, get medications, see a social worker, or find permanent housing.”

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