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Shopping carts aren’t the problem

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Everytime I drive past the construction project on the corner of Farney and El Paseo, just down from my house, I feel a little bit better about our city’s future.

When completed, the Pedrena Apartments will provide 80 units for seniors, age 55 and older earning no more than 60 percent of the median income, about $30,000 a year. It is expected to be fully occupied by December, 2025, city officials said.

Pedrena is one of two affordable housing projects now under construction. The Three Sisters Apartments at 130 N. Walnut will provide 70 units for low-income families with children.

As city and state officials continue to wrestle with the symptoms of homelessness and mental illness, we must always remember that the solution is affordable housing and accessible care, not enforcement and incarceration.

The latest attempt to attack the symptoms is a plan by Las Cruces Police Chief Jeremy Story to confiscate shopping carts used by the homeless to keep and move all of their possessions. Story stressed that the homeless would be cited, not arrested. And, he said the fines of up to $500 against the homeless could be waived by a judge.

Ideally, at that point the person would be matched with the services he or she needs, and the shopping cart would no longer be an issue. But that’s not what happens. In real life, the person is left with all their belongings and no way to transport them. We haven’t solved anything. We’ve only made life a little harder for those who are already just scraping by.

Story concedes that shopping cart theft isn’t a big problem. In fact, the ordinance proposes that city government place a new burden on businesses to better track their carts, something they could be doing now if they were concerned about their loss.

The problem is aesthetics. It doesn’t look good for the city when so many people are rolling shopping carts down the sidewalks.

The shopping cart ban is one of two proposals the police chief has offered to deal with the homeless. The other would address the issue of panhandling, something the city has tried in the past only to be shot down by the courts.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also made panhandling one of three topics she wants the Legislature to address in an upcoming special session. While private property owners certainly have the right to control what happens in their parking lots, that does not extend to public streets and spaces.

In 2018, an attempt by the city to prohibit panhandling on street corners was challenged by the ACLU and struck down by the Supreme Court. Nothing in the law has changed since then.

Story makes a valid point that, while we need to increase our investment in mental health services, we are not fully utilizing what we have now. The ill-fated crisis triage center, which sat for years as an empty building and was never used as originally intended, is one example of our failure to coordinate services. Those services need to be in place for his plan to work.

I support the police chief in his attempt to address the issue of those found not to be mentally competent to stand trial, another issue on the governor’s agenda for the special session. Police and courts need to be able to combat real crimes.

Using a shopping cart to gather and transport your belongings is not a real crime.

 

Walter Rubel’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU. Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

 

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