Homeless Camp Cleanup Perpetuates Duke City’s Demise

“Do as I do, not as I say.” That is the City of Albuquerque’s message to wannabe “Samaritans” who are perpetuating the growing homelessness problem in New Mexico’s biggest city. And yet the city itself proves to be the worst offender.

Editorial Page Editor D’Val Westphal’s latest column for The Albuquerque Journal (“Almost $25,000 and a garbage truck of bagels“) is a testament to the failure of government and the hypocrisy of do-gooder politicians.

According to Westphal, 50 employees across seven city departments are deployed every other Wednesday at a cost of $25,000 a pop to clean up the homeless camps at Albuquerque’s Coronado Park.

She preambles the column with an advisory warning for those of us who have watched the insanity play out month after month, speech after speech, allocation after allocation of taxpayer dollars, with worse effects than ever:

“This is neither a defense nor an indictment of the sad testament that is Coronado Park. It’s simply the reality that everyone who drives by Second and Interstate 40 sees daily.”

D’Val Westphal, ABQJournal Editorial Page Editor

The cleanups began in Spring 2021, making this venture a now year-long experiment costing approximately $600,000 in overtime pay, garbage trucks, needle containers, personal protective equipment “of white suits and rubber gloves,” and the maintenance of port-a-potties.

According to Matthew Whelan, director of the city’s Solid Waste Department, this is a good thing.

“Whelan says cleaning one large encampment is much more cost-effective and doable than trying to clean the dozens of smaller ones that would appear if the city shut down camping at the park,” according to the Journal.

Handing Out Trashbags

“At 7 a.m., crews alert the 50 to 100 individuals who spent the night in the park that it is closed until 4 p.m., and they hand out trash bags so folks can pack up their belongings.”

They hand out trashbags “so folks can pack up their belongings”–not so they can clean up their own trash.

“[A]bout a third of the park’s regular residents find somewhere else to sleep on the night before cleanup to avoid the early wake-up call. Those in the park on cleanup day disperse into the surrounding area.”

Brilliant. Send them into nearby neighborhoods while you clean up after them.

“Like bums, there will always be politicians. To be a politician, you have to do something, even when every major city in the country has proven that “something” only perpetuates the problem. But politicians can’t win elections by promising to leave people alone, even when doing so is the only real solution to problems like homelessness.”

Unready To Accept Help

“Many in the Coronado Park community do not want/are not ready to accept the city’s help via programs that include shelter beds, motel vouchers and supportive housing,” the Journal reports.

“One of the first things we start to pick up is discarded food. There’s a notion that, if you just take food to Coronado Park and leave it there, it’s a good thing. But one of the things right at seven o’clock as we begin to do the litter sweep, we literally will throw away boxes of bagels that somebody has left there, several boxes. … What you see is a lot of people who think they are doing a very good thing by just dropping off clothes and food at the front of the park, which ends up being turned into refuse throughout the park.”

–Solid Waste Department Director Matthew Whelan

Boxes of food, clothes, sofas, mattresses–“those end up in the landfill, as well,” Whelan says.

Bad Samaritans

“Items dropped off by well-meaning residents create a lot of work for cleanup crews and often just end up in the dump,” the Journal reports.

“Some readers might get to this point in the column and ask why are we spending $24,686.86 in tax dollars every other week to clean up after the homeless rather than using those resources to improve their neighborhood’s city park, roads and medians, and to police their area?”

Indeed. One would have to be mentally incapacitated to not ask this question. And yet they persist:

“First, unless and until camping is no longer allowed at Coronado Park, the amount of refuse is mind-numbing–three full garbage trucks every month–and the sanitary concerns are real,” Westphal writes. “Second, Whelan says Coronado Park cleanups and outreach offer bang for your buck, and the reality is, if not there, then somewhere else.”

The implication here is that you cannot solve the problem without cleaning up after and providing services for the culprits. This is a typical mindset of an enabler. Rather than asking why we’re not outlawing camping, the media simply repeats the narrative of city officials: “it would be worse if we didn’t do what we’re doing.”

Sisyphus Is No Myth

“The cleanups pose a Sisyphean task for crews every other Wednesday,” Westphal writes, “and that’s with Solid Waste, and Parks and Rec doing daily trash pickups and litter sweeps every weekday in between. It’s a reality and challenge Whelan and multiple other departments have simply added to their plates.”

“We’re a city as a whole,” Whelan is reported as saying. “If you have a problem area, if you don’t address that problem area by allocating resources, that problem area will spread everywhere, and so it will get bigger and, if you’re thinking that my area is going to stay the same and just let me be in my area – if we don’t address it where it’s the worst, it’s going to end up seeping into your area.”

You’re a city as a whole. That neighborhood’s problem is your problem. Allocating resources is essential, or else the problem grows.

If this sounds like Communism, that’s because it is.

Simple Solutions, Ignored

To call a problem “Sisyphean” is to admit that the efforts are never-ending and ineffective. To criticize wannabe “good Samaritans” for dumping items in city parks that taxpayer funded employees have to pack up and send to a landfill, then justify the “allocation of resources” and continuous city cleanups, is the epitome of hypocrisy.

If the city is “dedicated to trying to resolve this problem,” as Whelan says–if it’s “very high on our priority list”–then city leaders need to take their own advice.

Cleaning up other people’s trash only encourages them to be disgusting. Rather than handing out trash bags for folks to store their “possessions,” hand them out as a condition of not being cited and/or incarcerated for continuously littering. Rather than dispersing them into local communities while you clean up after them, arrest repeat offenders and put them on park cleanup duty.

If the majority of these people don’t want city services, why are we funding them to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year? If they don’t want government housing, why are residents paying for empty beds?

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Albuquerque city leaders acknowledge that their efforts are fruitless, that the problem is only worsening, and yet they insist on continuing to offer taxpayer-funded services as a band-aid to a problem that is not solved by addressing the symptoms of the cancer that is overtaking America’s cities.

We’ve said it time and time again: you can’t fix homelessness. Cities like Houston have “solved” homelessness by enforcing municipal ordinances on illegal camping, loitering, and trespassing, but with other cities a bus ride away, the problem isn’t solved. It’s simply relocated.

Albuquerque has a hero complex that makes politicians believe that if we simply provide more help, people who we know don’t want to help will somehow see the light.

They won’t.

The ultimate solution is work. It’s not treating “mental illness” or “drug addiction.” It’s work. The rise in mental health problems and drug addiction directly correlates to the fall in employment.

Work provides purpose. It provides dignity. And for people who have a drug problem, it provides an alternative to a life of addiction that is only perpetuated by taxpayer-funded services that provide for their essentials (food, shelter, clothing), allowing them to panhandle or commit crimes to fund their addictions.

Albuquerque needs to enforce its laws. It needs to stop cleaning up after people who could clean up after themselves. It needs to discourage “do-gooders” dumping their leftovers at public parks. And it needs to understand that doing for people what they can do for themselves is the reason we have a growing homelessness problem despite spending millions each year on “solutions.”

We are robbing people of their dignity and enabling them to continue to destroy themselves. It is taxpayer funded destruction, and if it doesn’t stop, homelessness will only get worse.

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