Rhonda Salazar, left, and others gather to stay warm at a makeshift camp on First Street NW, under Interstate 40. A new lawsuit claims the city of Albuquerque is violating the civil rights of people who are homeless. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Eight people — most of whom camped at Coronado Park before Albuquerque officials closed it four months ago — have filed a lawsuit alleging the city is violating the civil rights of people who are homeless.

The plaintiffs — some of whom still live on the streets — accuse the city of “cruel and unusual punishment” against people who are homeless and prosecuting them “for simply existing on public property with their personal belongings.” They also accuse the city of illegally seizing their property, denying them due process and more.

The group, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and other attorneys, is also asking a judge to certify the case as a class action lawsuit so the plaintiffs can represent themselves and other people who are homeless in Albuquerque.

The plaintiffs — also represented by Ives & Flores, Nick Davis and the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty — filed their case Monday in state District Court in Albuquerque. They are asking a judge to declare that the city violated the New Mexico Constitution and order the city to stop such actions. They are also seeking unspecified damages for former Coronado Park residents.

The city declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit, as Mayor Tim Keller said Monday the city had not yet been served.

The lawsuit details the events surrounding the city’s Aug. 17 closure of Coronado Park, a public space near Third Street and Interstate 40 where up to 120 people slept on a nightly basis. Plaintiffs allege the city did not provide adequate notice that its employees were kicking residents out for good rather than temporarily closing the park for what had until then been routine cleaning. Many residents lost their belongings as a result. For example, the city “misled” plaintiff Lance Wilson into believing that residents would be allowed back into the park later that day and, according to the suit, city workers threw his tent, cell phone, medication and more into a garbage truck.

“The City Workers were hostile to those (who) stayed there, openly laughed at those whose possessions they destroyed and said derogatory things to them,” the court documents state.

But the 46-page lawsuit also alleges the city illegally punishes people for sleeping in other public spaces when they have nowhere else to go, and details a series of alleged problems with the existing public shelter, the Westside Emergency Housing Center . The suit describes the plaintiffs’ individual experiences at the WEHC, calling it “unsafe, unhealthy and unfit for human habitation” and alleging that the environment can cause clients’ mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The suit alleges the facility — a former prison on the far West Side with a capacity for 450 people — is infested with black mold and bed bugs and lacks functional doors in the women’s showers, working fire hydrants and safe spaces for residents. to save. their belongings.

The suit alleges that the plaintiffs felt safer at Coronado Park, but its closure left them with nowhere viable to go. While officials said at the time that there was enough space at the WEHC for all park residents, the suit notes that the city generally does not have enough shelter beds for its entire homeless population.

“With temperatures dropping, people are at risk of dying from exposure to the elements. It is morally unacceptable for the city to punish people with no housing or shelter for participating in life-sustaining activities,” Laura Schauer Ives of Ives & Flores said in a written statement. “Instead of offering services such as affordable housing, employment opportunities and treatment for disabilities, the city is kicking them out of their homes.”

People are now in alleys and under bridges where they risk being cited by the police, the suit says.

“The City’s enforcement of city ordinances and state laws that prevent homeless people from living on public property punishes homeless people for their involuntary homeless status – effectively making it a crime for homeless people to exist anywhere with the possessions that they need to survive,” the suit says.

While the city did not comment specifically on the case Monday, a spokesperson addressed questions about the WEHC, saying the facility complies with fire code and has monthly bed bug monitoring and quarterly pest control treatments.

“We are constantly working on ways to improve the WEHC and make it an accommodating space for anyone who needs emergency shelter,” spokeswoman Katie Simon said in an emailed statement.

Keller, meanwhile, said the city tried to take a thoughtful approach to Coronado Park.

“I think we did it at a high level as best we could, which is to say we acted, but we took it in a way that was appropriate, effective and compassionate,” he said on Monday in ‘ a meeting with Journal editors and reporters said.

When he announced in July that Coronado Park would close, Keller and others in his administration cited crime and the property’s deteriorating condition. The city intentionally did not give advance warning of the exact date of the closure, but representatives said the closure was preceded by weeks of intensive outreach to people camping on the site.

While some moved into housing programs, more than half of the 94 Coronado Park residents who took a city-funded survey before the closing said they planned to move to another park or street location.

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