It was the homeless couple that was recently caught camping on the roof of the building she owns on Central Avenue and Quincy just east of Nob Hill that literally sent Elizabeth Vencill through the roof.
The couple, a man and a woman, had set up a blue tent and had proceeded to live on the roof of the one-story building at 115 Quincy NE that houses Vencill's law firm. It was not a pretty sight.
“They were living up there. They were pooping, there was toilet paper and tampons up there and needles and liquor bottles. It was horrible. They were acting like it belonged to them,” Vencill said as she recounted the invasion of “roamers and marauders” in the past two years that business owners along Central between Washington and San Mateo have had to deal with.
There was a drug dealer apparently living in a tree in a yard behind a business, an early morning fight and a stabbing at a nearby bus stop, a guy ripping copper wire out of street lights along Central, people having sex pretty much in the open, and abandoned shopping carts and needles and syringes everywhere.
And there was the incident two years ago when an attorney in an office across the street from Vencill's building turned on the lights in her office and nothing happened. The power was out because a thug on the roof had tried to rewire the building's power so he could connect his TV to it.
Now, the area's businesses are fighting back. They've formed the Highland Unified Business district, or HUB66, and are working to determine what they can do together to fight the crime that has beset their area.
“We have to face the fact that there are not enough police officers [to respond to calls from business owners in he area],” Vencill said. “So we're trying to figure out what we can do for ourselves. Some of our questions are do we pay for private policing and do we set up our own surveillance systems?”
HUB66 has been in the making for about two years, but the group of about 40 businesses chose its name in late October, effectively starting the organization Vencill said.
Vencill added that she is hoping to get every business in the area bounded by Washington and San Mateo on the west and east, and Copper and Zuni on the north and south, to join HUB66 so they can all work together to battle crime in the area, which is about 90 percent commercial.
The group's first effort takes place today [Saturday, Nov. 4] with a cleanup effort beginning at 10 a.m. The cleanup will start at the Hiland Theater's parking lot at 4800 Central Central SE and continue until noon.
Local businesses, including Vencill Law Firm, Reinhardt Law Firm, Kei & Molly Textiles, NDI New Mexico, ExplorAbilities, and area property owners, will be joined by student volunteers from the Highland High School Football Team, Highland High School Model UN, and Albuquerque High School Peace Club.
Also participating will be officers from APD’s Police and Community Together (PACT) team who have been collaborating with HUB66 to support their ongoing efforts to decrease crime and make the area more inviting. Donations for the event have been secured from Dion’s Pizza, The City of Albuquerque, Albuquerque Health Center, and Walmart.
“It’s exciting to see our whole community come together for this effort,” Vencill said. “We have seen crime increasing in our area of the Southeast Heights, and hopefully this event makes a visible difference to the appearance of our neighborhood and shows that we care about what goes on here.”
Cleanup crews will not only pick up trash but also document the kinds of debris they find, including used needles, to see if increased concerns are warranted regarding safety in the area. HUB66 has recently developed a flyer for area businesses on Keeping your Business Safe 101 in response to safety concerns.
“As a new business owner in the area, we’re learning so much from the other businesses in our community and love taking action with this Cleanup Day. It’s amazing that the business owners and students are working together to create a more inviting neighborhood!” said Kei Tsuzuki, Co-owner of Kei & Molly Textiles.
Vencill said that other business areas might have even bigger crime problems than does her area. But she's hoping that HUB66's efforts will encourage and inspire other area's to start fighting back.
“It's an example of what is going on throughout the city and we are trying to fix our area,” Vencill said. “We hope that we can be an example to other businesses around the city.”