Cree Walker and her four children live in one room with two beds at an Albuquerque hotel that allows long-term stay. Credit: Marjorie Childress
New Mexico has a housing crisis. Homelessness is up and the inventory of homes and apartments is down.
Ask Cree Walker, a 32-year-old mother of four children ages 5 to 12 who has experienced the crisis firsthand. “I haven’t been able to find anything,” said Walker, who has hunted for housing for six months. The 32 year old, who grew up in Pecos, moved to Idaho then returned to New Mexico but has scarce family to call on for help.
Going against federal guidance during the era of COVID-19, Albuquerque city personnel periodically roust homeless encampments. Waking inhabitants before sunrise, police deliver orders over a megaphone for men, women, sometimes families to move along in as quickly as 30 minutes.In the frenzy of gathering themselves and belongings people have lost birth certificates and state identification cards as well as valuable personal mementoes, according to interviews reviewed by New Mexico In Depth conducted by a local service group that helps people living on Albuquerque’s streets. Camps spring up regularly around Albuquerque, where every day hundreds live on the streets, particularly in downtown, in parks, under overpasses, tucked away in alleyways, in the doorways of businesses, and sometimes, on sidewalks.
Continuing a practice that was normal in pre-COVID-19 times, the city never lets them last for long, even while it’s unknown how many homeless people may have contracted the virus in Albuquerque so far.
One service organization, citing guidelines issued in March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wants the practice of breaking up camps to stop.
Street Safe New Mexico, a service organization helping homeless communities, women living on the streets and trafficking victims, says the regular sweeps inject more danger into already precarious lives because of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.For example, Executive Director Christine Barber said, one man was asked to leave his camp two days after being tested for COVID-19. “He was potentially walking around the streets infecting people instead of being at his camp,” Barber said. “The policy is directly hurting people.”
The federal agency’s guidance on working with homeless populations during the pandemic, specifically camps, says “Clearing [homeless] encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers, “increasing “the potential for infectious disease spread,” according to the guidelines.