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Gallup transients continue to settle in alleys, on rooftops

Brian McDonald, a dedicated local business owner, has scaled the roofs of Gallup businesses and homes for some 23 years.

In his more than two decades of heating and cooling work on downtown Gallup rooftops, he’s noticed that he’s not alone.

The people he sees at work are not colleagues, friends, or anyone he knows. They’re squatters.

These folks take shelter by haphazardly climbing pipes and jumping on trash bins to launch themselves onto roofs — building hutches and make-shift tents out of the sides of swamp coolers, and creating makeshift toilets and fire pods for warmth.

As the owner of Universal Air HVAC, 2265 Peggy Ann Dr., McDonald provides heating and cooling sales, installation, and services for homes and businesses around the city.

While squatters play house on rooftops, often unbeknownst to folks on the ground, business goes on as usual in downtown Gallup.

When McDonald saw an encampment on one roof in January, he thought it was above Red Rock Insurance, 212 Coal Ave., He mentioned it to owner Joseph Sanchez. Someone climbed up to check it out and the encampment turned out to be on the roof of a neighboring business.

“I’m finding them (transients) in the alleys, under bridges,” McDonald said. “They’re everywhere — downtown Gallup is the worst.”

A few months later, in April, squatter issues captured Sanchez’ attention again, when uninvited guests tried to build a fire behind his office.

Sanchez was only one of several businesses affected. His neighbor Rick Heisch of Shi’Ma Traders, 3316 E. Historic Hwy. 66, learned of a structure on his roof in June. Heisch said he’s currently facing thousands of dollars in repairs due to the activities of people camping on his roof.

He doesn’t blame all of his roof issues on the campers. But he said they certainly haven’t helped.

They “halfway caved in my lower roof … jumped up and down on a guide wire that was holding up my business sign,” he said.

He said squatters messed up his cooler, too.

The estimate for re-tarring the lower part of Heisch’s roof is $3,000. It doesn’t include the structural damage, the swamp cooler, or the guide wire that holds up his sign.

Sanchez got another reminder of the squatters in August when his own cables were cut on Aug. 2, and he was left without internet or phone lines for three days.

To combat the problem, Sanchez installed cameras and talked to his neighbor Tony Bonaguidi about taking down a pipe at 210 Coal Ave. that was being used to access the roof.

But the August cable incident was the last straw for Sanchez.

He organized a meeting inviting his neighbors and Dist.1 City Councilor Linda Garcia to discuss solutions to what he considers a growing problem.

The outcome was promising.

Garcia said she would use $4,500 of her discretionary funds to install eight-foot high gates to close off the alley between Second and Third Streets.

The spiked gates are designed to make it harder for trespassers to enter the alley and access dumpsters for a boost to the roof.

Garcia pointed out that closing the alley with gates works well for her north side constituents, although McDonald said he still sees squatter activity there.

He says it’s part of the average daily routine in Gallup. It’s so common he doesn’t report everything he sees.

“The stuff you’d see [on Gallup rooftops] would blow your mind — knives, needles, bottles, clothes,” McDonald said.

He also said he reports violence or safety issues about once a month. But he hasn’t been reporting thefts from his company’s vehicles, because his deductible is too high. Nevertheless, it adds up to thousands of dollars of losses for his company.

Even though he doesn’t know who the squatters are, McDonald says that over the years they have been getting younger, more violent, and more demanding.

When it comes to being threatened with violence, McDonald declined to comment.



Gallup business owners are hopeful that the gates for the alley between Second and Third Streets will put a damper on the squatter activity atop their buildings.

The original idea had been for the alleys to remain closed with access limited to businesses, emergency vehicles, utilities and garbage pickup. However, City Manager Maryann Ustick wanted the gates open during the day. The current plan is for Gallup City Solid Waste to open the gates at 6 am and for business owners to close them at 5 pm. Garcia says her understanding is that the gates will be closed on weekends.

That plan may be amended as at least one business owner, Joseph Sanchez, would prefer to see the gates closed during the day.

Garcia said the gates will be completed with locks installed by Oct. 11.

She is also meeting with a business on Second Street to discuss that owner’s potential interest in installing more gates in the area. If an effort is launched to collect signatures for that purpose, Garcia said she will also cover the cost of gates on First and Second Streets with her discretionary funds.

That amount has yet to be determined.