The Scoop on the Poop
Who's responsible for human waste--citizens or the city?
By Thomas Gilchrist
James Burbank has a disgusting problem on his hands—literally. Luckily, he has his very own hazmat suit for his protection. For the past four years, homeless people have used the alleyway that faces his garage as a thoroughfare to Morningside Park (3899 Lead SE). Only for the people who hang-out in the park, there’s no place for them to do their business.
“They lean against the garage, and then crap in what would be my driveway,” says Burbank, a professor of professional writing at UNM, who has either rented out or lived at the home, which resides directly across from the park, since 1983.
Already three times this summer, Burbank has discovered human feces on his property. The city says he’s responsible for the clean-up, since the alley is considered private.
“But they’re coming in through the alleyway on their way to Morningside Park. What’s a property owner to do? The city has some responsibility—this is the access that people use to get where they sleep and shoot-up,” says Burbank.
He appealed to the city for help. He contacted the mayor’s office beginning one year ago to ask for a porta-potty to be put in the park but was bounced around and finally told that the city will only provide porta-potties for events like softball games.
“They’re just totally unresponsive. I called my councilperson, who didn’t get back to me, and [the city] basically said, 'It’s your problem, buddy.' The solution seems pretty easy if they would just put a port-a-john in Morningside,” says Burbank, who lives in District 6.
The offices of Martin Heinrich, the councilor for that district, had no record of Burbank’s call.
“For sometime now, we’ve been trying to reactivate the park as a place for people to go and do good things,” says Heinrich.
He sounded optimistic about Morningside’s future prospects.
“We’re seeing some progress, but it’s by no means finished. My hope is that people won’t feel comfortable defecating or doing anything inappropriate in the park,” he says.
He went on to talk of the mixed results the city has experienced in similar porta-potties placed downtown.
“They tend to cause as many problems as they’ve been solving. The long-term solution is to get foks into treatment or the homeless services,” Heinrich says.
When contacted for comment, the Mayor’s office, however, had a surprising response.
“We’re going to put a porta-potty in Morningside Park on a trial basis. It should be in the park within a week,” said Ed Adams, chief operations officer for the mayor.
When asked why Burbank hadn’t gotten any response from the city, Adams said he couldn’t comment because he didn’t know the whole story, and he was unaware of the situation prior to the Alibi’s call.
“It will be placed for a reasonable period of time, so we can see if we are having success in dealing with the problems in this man’s yard; but it’s not inexpensive—normally we wouldn’t do this,” said Adams.
The city’s porta-potty contract is with The Triple-A Pumping Company of Albuquerque, and the rate to put a john in a public park is $50 per week for a regular loo and $85 per week for a handicapped one, not including $10 per cleaning session, according to Marlene Varrandey, a scheduling coordinator for the city’s Department of Recreation.
When told of the city’s decision, all Burbank could do was laugh. And say, “Wow.”
“I just think citizens face a tremendous amount of frustration. What gets me is that when I called them, they were downright rude, just dismissive and discourteous,” he said. “It’s strange—why can’t a citizen get attention? It’s a good question.”
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