Reprieve for “Tent City” Residents Short-lived, Future in Doubt

Photos by DAVID CORREIA

This was the scene at Tent City mid-day on Wednesday, February11, 2015. Tent City is a homeless camp in Albuquerque's downtown that sprang up last fall along First Street and Iron Avenue, just west of the railyards. For months the City, which says it wants to turn First Street into a boulevard for shoppers  between downtown and the newly redeveloped railyards, had been trying to remove residents.
This was the scene at Tent City mid-day on Wednesday, February 11, 2015. Tent City is a homeless camp in Albuquerque’s downtown that sprang up last fall along First Street and Iron Avenue, just west of the railyards. For months the City, which says it wants to turn First Street into a boulevard for shoppers between downtown and the newly redeveloped railyards, had been trying to remove residents.
In response to the City's claim that Tent City had to move in order to make room for an urban pedestrian shopping trail between downtown and the railyard, residents of Tent City, chalked addresses on the curb in front of each Tent.
In response to the City’s claim that Tent City had to move in order to make room for an urban pedestrian shopping trail between downtown and the railyard, residents of Tent City chalked addresses on the curb in front of each Tent.
On Monday of this week, the City of Albuquerque issued eviction notices to the 20+ residents of Tent City, a homeless camp in Albuquerque's downtown that sprang up last fall along First Street and Iron Avenue, just west of the railyards. For months the City, which says it wants to turn First Street into a boulevard for shoppers  between downtown and the newly redeveloped railyards, had been trying to remove residents.
On Monday, February 9, 2015 the City of Albuquerque issued eviction notices, posted on the fence behind each tent, notifying the 20+ residents of Tent City of its looming removal. Recent efforts to remove Tent City included vouchers to local motels. The plan didn’t work, as most people returned to Tent City after the vouchers ran out.
Activists from ABQ Justice have spent months working with, and defending the rights of, residents of Tent City. ABQ Justice, along with other community groups, organized a dinner at Tent City on Wednesday as a way to publicize the lack of compassion in the City's eviction plan.
Activists from ABQ Justice have spent months working with, and defending the rights of, residents of Tent City. ABQ Justice, along with other community groups, organized a dinner at Tent City on Wednesday as a way to publicize the lack of compassion in the City’s eviction plan.
On Tuesday night, with evictions looming and not plan by the City on where Tent City residents would go, the Barelas Neighborhood Association held a joint meeting with the Barelas Community Coalition. At that meeting the groups agreed to offer a vacant lot in Barelas at Second Street and Santa Fe Avenue. Vincent Saint Vincent, pictured, showed up to Tent City on Wednesday morning with the news. Saint Vincent said he was among the first people to pitch tents on First Street in October 2014. With help from family and friends he was no longer homeless and now wanted to give back by helping current Tent City residents.
On Tuesday night, with evictions looming and no plan by the City on where Tent City residents would go, the Barelas Neighborhood Association held a joint meeting with the Barelas Community Coalition. At that meeting the groups agreed to offer a vacant lot in Barelas at Second Street and Santa Fe Avenue. Vincent Saint Vincent, pictured, showed up to Tent City on Wednesday morning with the news. Saint Vincent said he was among the first people to pitch tents on First Street in October 2014. With help from family and friends he was no longer homeless and now wanted to give back by helping current Tent City residents.
Saint Vincent planned a 6PM press conference to announce the planned move. He held up the email offer from Javier Benavidez, Executive Director of the Southwest Organizing Project and Secretary of the Barelas Community Coalition.
Saint Vincent planned a 6PM press conference to announce the planned move. He held up the email offer from Javier Benavidez, Executive Director of the Southwest Organizing Project and Secretary of the Barelas Community Coalition.
Residents of Tent City began breaking down tents at 4PM.
Residents of Tent City began breaking down tents at 4PM.
Organizers from ABQ Justice offered their vehicles to Tent City residents in order to transport tents and belongings to the new location.
Organizers from ABQ Justice offered their vehicles to Tent City residents in order to transport tents and belongings to the new location.
The moving began in earnest at 4PM.
The moving began in earnest at 4PM.
A dozen people helped load belongings into three trucks ferrying people and tents to the new site.
A dozen people helped load belongings into three trucks ferrying people and tents to the new site.
The relocation site was the location of the old A&P bar, now a vacant lot in the heart of the Barelas neighborhood
The relocation site was the location of the old A&P bar, now a vacant lot in the heart of the Barelas neighborhood.
Kimba, one of the original residents of Tent City, was among the first to set up camp at the new location.
Kimba, one of the original residents of Tent City, was the first to set up camp at the new location.
With the sun setting and the press on the scene, Vincent Saint Vincent began the press conference announcing Tent City's move to the new location.
With the sun setting and the press on the scene, organizers began the press conference to announce Tent City’s move to the new location.
After the press conference, organizers and activists marched with Tent City residents to the new location.
After the press conference, organizers and activists marched with Tent City residents to the new location.
Meanwhile, organizers and volunteers from the Southwest Organizing Project and ABQ Justice prepared a potluck feast to welcome Tent City to its new location.
Meanwhile, organizers and volunteers from the Southwest Organizing Project and ABQ Justice prepared a potluck feast to welcome Tent City to its new location.
Marchers arrived with residents and supporters and sat down to share a meal.
Marchers arrived with residents and supporters and sat down to share a meal.

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While people set up their camps and ate dinner, Two-tone Grant (left) pulled up in a van and unloaded donated clothing and supplies for residents. She told me she runs her community outreach effort, "A Light in the Night" out of her own house. Visit her facebook site "A Light in the Night Community Outreach" to donate supplies.
While people set up their camps and ate dinner, Two-tone Grant (left) pulled up in a van and unloaded donated clothing and supplies for residents. She told me she runs her community outreach effort, “A Light in the Night,” out of her own house. Visit her facebook site “A Light in the Night Community Outreach” to donate supplies.
Organizers decorated the tables with tablecloths and center pieces.
Organizers decorated the tables with tablecloths and center pieces.
The day was a victory for Tent City residents and their allies and supporters, but not all were convinced that the new location would serve even as a temporary solution. Earlier in the day, just after Vincent Saint Vincent began circulating the good news from the Barelas Neighborhood Association, I met Armando Valdez. While others were excited about the planned move and heralded it as a victory, Armando sat on the curb with a look of bemusement on his face. When I asked him what he thought about the good news, he told me he didn't believe it. "There's no way the Barelas neighborhood wants us here," he said. "They're suing the Rescue Mission. Why would they sue the Rescue Mission because they don't want homeless people in their neighborhood but then offer us a new location just blocks from the Rescue Mission?"
It seemed like an improbable victory for Tent City residents, but not all were convinced that the new location would serve even as a temporary solution. Earlier in the day, just after Vincent Saint Vincent began circulating the good news about the relocation, I met Armando Valdez. While others were excited about the planned move and heralded it as a victory, Armando sat on the curb with a look of bemusement on his face. When I asked him what he thought about the good news, he told me he didn’t believe it. “There’s no way the Barelas neighborhood wants us here,” he said. “They’re suing the Rescue Mission. They’re suing the Rescue Mission because they don’t want homeless people in their neighborhood. So why would they offer us a new location just blocks from the Rescue Mission?”
I brought Vincent Saint Vincent over to meet Armando and I asked him if it were true. The conversation didn't go well. Saint Vincent told Valdez to stop being negative. Valdez told Saint Vincent that it was all a cruel joke.
I brought Vincent Saint Vincent over to meet Armando Valdez. I asked Saint Vincent if Valdez’s concerns were valid. The conversation didn’t go well. Saint Vincent told Valdez to stop being negative. Valdez told Saint Vincent that it was all a cruel joke.
I walked the two blocks to the Rescue Mission with Valdez to find out if it were true that neighbors in Barelas were suing the Mission.
I walked the two blocks to the Rescue Mission with Valdez to find out if it were true that some neighbors in Barelas were suing the Mission.
I asked the security guard, Johnny, if Valdez's story was true. "Oh yeah," he told me. "We don't let people in if they're high or if they've been drinking. They used to pitch their tents right on the sidewalk outside the Mission. I don't know about suing, but some neighbors did complain. Now we don't let them the camp here. So, they set up camp on First Street."
I asked the security guard, Johnny, if Valdez’s story was true. “Oh yeah,” he told me. “We don’t let people in if they’re high or if they’ve been drinking. They used to pitch their tents right on the sidewalk outside the Mission. I don’t know about suing, but some neighbors always complained. Now we don’t let them the camp here. So, they set up camp on First Street.”

The email offer giving Tent City residents permission to use the new location identified the owner of the lot as the Sawmill Trust, it's actually owned by a Portland, Oregon man named Chad Renniker. On Thursday, residents surrounding the new location began complaining to him about the new Tent City. According to one organizer, "[some neighbors] have been contacting the owner of the property and telling him to have the camp moved." Renniker told the Albuquerque Journal that "he's not in favor of this at all" and "he did not give permission." The Albuquerque Journal spoke to a number of neighbors, all of whom complained about the location. Organizers from ABQ Justice, had a different experience that reporters from the Journal, telling me, "Some of us stayed over at the new site and last night we spoke to a resident who was out walking his dog and he was super-positive about this attempt of moving towards a longer-term plan. This morning a guy from the neighborhood stopped by with his family to tell us how wonderful and necessary he thought this innovation was. ABQJustice members are in the process of setting up a meeting with the Barelas Community Coalition to see how we can try and facilitate a relatively smooth transition and take neighbour concerns into consideration."
While the Barelas Neighborhood Association and Community Coalition unanimously offered the lot for Tent City, it is owned by a Portland, Oregon man named Chad Renniker. On Thursday, a number of residents surrounding the new location, and who weren’t at the Tuesday night meeting, complained to Renniker. According to one organizer, “[some neighbors] have been contacting the owner of the property and telling him to have the camp moved.” Renniker told the Albuquerque Journal that “he’s not in favor of this at all” and “he did not give permission.” The Albuquerque Journal spoke to a number of neighbors, all of whom complained about the location. Organizers from ABQ Justice had a different experience, telling me, “Some of us stayed over at the new site and last night we spoke to a resident who was out walking his dog and he was super-positive about this attempt of moving towards a longer-term plan. This morning a guy from the neighborhood stopped by with his family to tell us how wonderful and necessary he thought this innovation was. ABQ Justice members are in the process of setting up a meeting with the Barelas Community Coalition to see how we can try and facilitate a relatively smooth transition and take neighbor concerns into consideration.” ABQ Justice plans a March 5 meeting at the Peace & Justice Center to discuss the issue.
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