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AP New Mexico

Judge orders Albuquerque to pause removal of homeless people’s belongings

City officials say ruling would limit its ability to keep city clean and safe

ALBUQUERQUE – The city of Albuquerque will be banned under a court order from seizing or destroying property of people who are homeless.

A Bernalillo County District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction Thursday that Albuquerque will have to follow starting Nov. 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and others filed a lawsuit last December on behalf of several unhoused residents. In the suit, they argued homeless encampment sweeps were unconstitutional.

They asked a judge to stop officials in the state's largest city from destroying homeless encampments and jailing and fining people who are living on the street.

For now, the city cannot remove people's belongings without notice or an opportunity for a hearing or a way to reclaim them. The only exceptions to the ban are if the property is on school grounds, obstructs streets or poses an immediate safety threat.

The order is only temporary until a final ruling is made.

In a statement, the city called the ruling “dangerous” and intends to challenge it. Officials also warned it “would severely limit our ability to keep our city clean and safe, while getting people connected to the help they need.”

In Phoenix, a judge ruled Wednesday that Phoenix must permanently clear the city's largest homeless encampment by Nov. 4. Property owners and residents filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court, saying the city had let the tent city become a public nuisance. The city said it was following a law that prevents it from criminalizing public camping.

Phoenix is also dealing with a separate lawsuit in federal court. A federal judge in December issued an emergency injunction prohibiting authorities from enforcing sleeping and camping bans on anyone who cannot obtain a bed in a shelter.