On April 1, the Mayor Tim Keller Administration released the 2022-2023 annual budget that once enacted by the city council will be for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2022 and will end June 30, 2023. The overall budget submitted for review and approval of the Albuquerque City council is for $1.4 Billion. $841.8 represents the general fund spending and it is an increase of $127 million, or 17.8%, over the current year’s budget of $1.2 Billion.
The link to the proposed 244-page 2022-2023 budget it here:
In an interview, Mayor Tim Keller said the budget is actually a “pretty bland” proposal that covers the necessary bases without introducing many new elements. Keller is quoted as saying:
“I don’t think there’s anything in here that is a particular surprise … It’s not like we have some massive announcements.”
The link to quoted news sources is here
“ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS THROUGH A HOUSING FIRST APPROACH”
Since day one of being sworn in as Mayor on December 1, 2017, elected Mayor Tim Keller has made it a top priority to deal with the city’s homeless crisis. The 2022-2023 budget continues with Mayor Tim Keller’s commitment to help the homeless including funding for the Gateway Homeless Shelter on Gibson.
It was on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the city officially announced it had bought the massive 572,000-square-foot complex for $15 million and will transform it into a Gateway Center for the homeless. It was announced that the complex would be only 1 of the multisite homeless shelters and not the 300-bed shelter originally planned. The complex has a 201-bed capacity, but remodeling could likely increase capacity significantly. Mayor Keller alienated many when he unilaterally decided on the purchase of the Lovelace Gibson facility and announcing that it would be used as a homeless shelter. Mayor Keller sought little or no input from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Notwithstanding, Mayor Keller in the 2022-2023 budget is increasing his commitment to dealing with the homeless on a number of levels. However, there is one new level that is a totally different level without making full public disclosure for the new effort.
On April 4, Mayor Tim Keller’s plan to spend $950,000 on “city sanctioned homeless encampments” was reported in a blog article on the entire proposed 2023 city budget. The article is entitled “Keller’s ‘Pretty Bland’ $1.4 Billion 2023 City Budget Far From Bland With 18% Increase; 13% Pay Raises For Cops With Performance Measures Down And More Overtime; Anemic 2% Pay Raises For City Workforce; $900,000 For Open Space City Sanctioned “Homeless Encampments”
The link to the April 4 blog article is here:
Buried in Mayor Keller’s “Executive Summary” of the $1.4 Billion Dollar budget is a section entitled “Addressing Homelessness Through a Housing First Approach”.
To quote in part Keller’s Executive Summary of the 2022-2023 proposed budget:
“The pandemic exposed cracks in the social safety net and public health systems, and provided an opportunity to address these challenges with urgency. Our proposed budget also aims to close some of those cracks in the system on a larger and more permanent scale, including:
• $750 thousand for the first phase of Safe Outdoor Spaces, which, if approved by Council, will enable ultra-low barrier encampments to set up in vacant dirt lots across the City, plus an additional $200 thousand for developing other sanctioned encampment programs.
(Editor’s Note: This line item has been taken out of order and placed first for emphasis.)
• $4 million in recurring funding and $3 million in one-time funding for supportive housing programs in the City’s Housing First model. In addition, as recommended by the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force, the budget includes $100 thousand for emergency housing vouchers for victims of intimate partner violence.
• $1.3 million for a Medical Respite facility at Gibson Health Hub, which will provide acute and post-acute care for persons experiencing homelessness who are too ill or frail to recover from a physical illness or injury on the streets but are not sick enough to be in a hospital.
• $4.7 million net to operate the first Gateway Center at the Gibson Health Hub, including revenue and expenses for emergency shelter and first responder drop-off, facility operation and program operations.
• Full funding for the Westside Emergency Housing Center, which has operated at close to full occupancy for much of the year.
• $500 thousand to fund the development of a technology system that enables the City and providers to coordinate on the provision of social services to people experiencing homelessness and behavioral health challenges.
• $500 thousand to fund Albuquerque Street Connect, a highly effective program that focuses on people experiencing homelessness who use the most emergency services and care, to establish ongoing relationships that result in permanent supportive housing.”
KOB NEWS STORY ON CITY SANCTIONED HOMELESS ENCAMPMENTS
On April 9, KOB Channel 4 ran the news story entitled “Albuquerque officials consider designated homeless camps”. Publication of the news story is in order:
“There is a new plan to give those without a home a new and safe place to stay in Albuquerque. [Weekend news anchor Tommy Lopez added the plan is contained in the proposed 2022-2023 city budget.]
Mayor Tim Keller is now saying a city-managed and designated homeless camp could be a solution to some homelessness problems in the city. KOB 4 spoke with a city council member about the idea and where those potential locations would be.
“We see them every day, who are not ready to get into permanent supportive housing,” said Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis.
Even with Tiny Homes Village and the proposed Gateway Center, Davis says it’s a way to address the issue of those who don’t want to be placed in a home.
“Even though we are putting $40 million into housing every year, we still have a waiting list, and we still have people who aren’t willing to get into those other places and we need to come up with an answer for some of them. Maybe this is an option we should explore,” said Davis.
While the plan is still very much in it’s beginning phase, the goal is to clear out homeless camps at parks and move them to empty dirt lots. Now, the city says they don’t plan on picking just any dirt lot, they are looking for locations that are near homeless services and ones that are far from any homes.
“This is not about turning your neighborhood park into an encampment. This is about incentivizing in certain parts of town where they are not disruptive to other residents or other uses,” said Davis.
And the camps wouldn’t be open to just anyone.
“Some of the early things we have learned is that they have to be small enough to be manageable, they have to be managed, it can’t just be a free for all, there needs to be a structure and a system for it,” said Davis.
This isn’t a new idea Santa Fe is also looking into it and Las Cruces has already created these types of camps.
“Done right, other cities have seen a lot of success with it, but we got a lot of details yet to be sorted out before the City of Albuquerque will start doing these,” Davis said.
The city council knows this is going to be a big topic of discussion in Albuquerque. They say in April and the start of May, there will be multiple meetings where citizens will be able to speak their minds about this.
But the city will have to make a decision soon, it has until the end of May to finalize the budget.
Much of the information contained in the Channel 4 news report on the the encampments, such as location and screening of occupants, has not been rendered to writing in that the proposal is very much in the planning stages.
2021-2022 APPROVED FUNDING FOR CONTRACTS TO DEAL WITH HOMELESS
It is the city’s Family and Community Services Department that manages and deals with city services, programs and federal grants for the homeless and assist with affordable housing programs to help low-income people in need of financial assistance to avoid becoming homeless.
The Family and Community Services Department had a total budget of $54,868,986 with 313 full time employees for the fiscal year 2021-2022. According to the 2021-2022 fiscal year approved city budget for the Department of Community Services, the city spent upwards of $35,145,851 to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance. A breakdown of the amounts spent includes:
$18,191,960 for affordable housing and community contracts (Budget page 175.)
$6,421,898 for emergency shelter contracts (Budget page 176.)
$4,378,104 for mental health contracts (Budget page178.)
$3,624,213 homeless support services(Budget page 178.)
$2,529,676 substance abuse contracts for counseling (Budget page 179.)
You can review the detailed line-item funding of programs, contract and grants administered by the Family and Community Services Department in the 2021-2022 approved city budget on the pages provided above with the link here:
2022-2023 PROPOSED FUNDING FOR CONTRACTS TO DEAL WITH HOMELESS
Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 proposed budget significantly increases the Family and Community Services budget by $24,353,064 to assist the homeless or near homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498, 915 . The 2022-2023 proposed budget for the Department of Community Services is $72.4 million and it will have 335 full time employees, or an increase of 22 full time employees.
A breakdown of the amounts to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance is as follows:
$42,598,361 total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for chronically homeless. It is $24,353,064 more than last year. (Budget page 101)
$6,025,544 total for emergency shelter contracts (Budget page 102.), down $396,354 from last year.
$3,773,860 total for mental health contracts (Budget page105.), down $604,244 from last year
$4,282,794 total homeless support services(Budget page 105.), up $658,581 from last year
$2,818,356 total substance abuse contracts for counseling (Budget page 106.), up by $288,680 from last year.
The link to the proposed 244-page 2022-2023 budget it here:
2021 POINT-IN-TIME (PIT) REPORT
On June 22, 2021, Albuquerque’s 2021 Point-In-Time (PIT) report was released that surveyed both sheltered and unsheltered homeless. Major highlights of the 2021 PIT report are as follows:
There were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque, a slight increase over the 2019 count of 1,524 homeless. The 2020 homeless count is 2.8% higher than in 2019 and 18.9% more than in 2017, despite the pandemic limiting the 2021 counting effort’s.
The 2021 PIT count found the good news that 73.6% of the homeless population was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” locations. The 73.6% in the 2021 count is much a higher than the 2019 and 2017 PIT counts.
Albuquerque’s unsheltered homeless decreased from 567 people in 2019 to 413 in the 2021 count.
42% of Albuquerque’s unsheltered were defined as chronically homeless, meaning they had been continuously homeless for at least a year and had a disabling condition
21% said they were homeless due to COVID
37% were experiencing homelessness for the first time
12% were homeless due to domestic violence.
30.19% of the homeless in Albuquerque self-reported as having a serious mental illness.
25.5% self-reported as substance abusers.
In the rest of the state, 37.92% of the homeless self-reported a serious mental illness, while 63.3% self reported as substance abusers.
The combined PIT numbers for the areas outside of Albuquerque is defined in the report as “Balance of State” (BOS). The 2021 BOS PIT count reports that 1,180 sheltered and unsheltered homeless, a 31% decrease from the 1,717 counted in 2019.
Operators of programs that provide services to Albuquerque’s homeless say the actual number of homeless is far greater than indicated in the PIT count. The Albuquerque Public Schools says the number of homeless children enrolled in district schools, meaning kids from families that have no permanent address, has consistently been more than 3,000.
The link to quoted statistics is here:
KELLER’S 2021 MUNIPAL ELECTION COMMENTS RECALLED
During the 2021 municipal election where Keller ran and was elected to a second term, Keller claimed the worsening homeless crisis in Albuquerque is partly because homelessness, just like violent crime, is “exploding” around the country. Responding to the arguments by his opponents that more arrests need to be made, Keller had this to say:
“This is a good example of folks just not doing their homework. … It’s just naive to think that a mayor can come in and [just start arresting people who are homeless]. … Mayors have to understand they are not the all-powerful kings of the city and they can just do stuff that’s illegal. It’s a good lesson to learn, because their ideas will never fly in court, and it’s just going to end up costing the city a bunch in lawsuits. … My administration … [is] going to continue working with our partners, but we unfortunately have to own this problem, because we need to do more.”
Keller acknowledged that the city has laws and ordinances that allow it to dismantle homeless encampments, he said there is a “line” to walk between respecting individuals’ rights and enforcing ordinances.
When it came to government sanctions and operated outdoor, public place encampments, Keller said during the campaign he was open to the concept if faith-based organizations or other agencies want to try it. However, he would want the authorized camps to be small, scattered and controlled to mitigate issues like substance abuse. Keller said this:
“I think we need an all-of-the-above approach because homelessness and unsheltered is such a terrible problem for our city.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
“Safe outdoor spaces” is the popular term now being used by municipal governments across the United States to refer “government sanctioned encampments for the homeless”. City hall sanctioned encampments are a bad idea for Albuquerque and will likely make things worse while millions are being spent to alleviate the homeless crisis in the city.
The April 9, KOB Channel 4 news story makes it abundantly clear that the Keller Administration has given very little next to no thought to city hall sanctioned “safe outdoor spaces” or “homeless encampments” yet the Keller Administration is asking for $950,000 for a first phase development and “other sanctioned encampment programs” . Nothing is mentioned on the number of phases or amounts that will eventually be spent.
Keller’s own budget summary says:
“$750 thousand for the first phase of Safe Outdoor Spaces, which, if approved by Council, will enable ultra-low barrier encampments to set up in vacant dirt lots across the City, plus an additional $200 thousand for developing other sanctioned encampment programs.”
These are 2 appropriations that come as “a particular surprise” to use Keller’s words. Keller has yet to make any sort of formal “public announcement” or press conference his is known for of city sanctioned encampments. There is little doubt that government sponsored encampments will be controversial, especially when the homeless encampments will be spread throughout the city on vacant “dirt lots” in plain site for all to see.
During his 2021 reelection campaign for Mayor, Keller said he was “open to the concept if faith-based organizations or other agencies want to try it”. A $950,000 allocation by the city and the city sponsoring “open space homeless encampments” is a major difference from faith-based organizations or other agencies doing it on their own.
MEDIA HOG PAT DAVIS
It is not all clear nor likely that Mayor Keller or his Administration briefed Pat Davis on the subject government encampments for his Channel 4 interview seeing as the budget was released by Keller 7 days before the interview was published. Pat Davis is not the City Council President nor Vice President nor the Chairperson of the budget committee and can only speak for himself and the exact reasons why he was interviewed by Channel 4 is suspicious.
Davis has the reputation of being a “media hog”, a politician always on the prowl for self-promotion. Davis does not hold a leadership position on the counsel, but he inserted himself into the discussion on city homeless encampments as if he was speaking for the City Council as a whole or for Mayor Tim Keller. Why Channel 4 did nor reach out to the city council leadership or the Mayor is a mystery.
Pat Davis is also the same City Councilor who stuck his meddling nose into the Gateway Homeless Shelter being located at the old Lovelace Hospital complex by attempting to place a cap of only 30 residence on the facility when the facility was being designed for as many as 150. Davis stuck his nose into it only after the city had bought the facility and after he saw residents in his district, where the facility is located, raise hell about it. During protests and zoning hearings on the project, Davis was nowhere to be found.
It is not at all likely that Pat Davis was asked by the Keller Administration to discuss city sanctioned homeless encampments and very doubtful he told the Keller Administration that he was going to be interviewed by Channel 4. The fact that Channel 4 interviewed Davis and not the council leadership nor the Mayor on encampments raises a degree of suspicion as to the true motives of the station and its reporters or perhaps they were just lazy.
Davis was nothing more than a “media hog” when he spoke as if he knew exactly what the intent of the new initiative sounding like he has already decided to support city sponsored encampments when he said:
“This is not about turning your neighborhood park into an encampment. This is about incentivizing in certain parts of town where they are not disruptive to other residents or other uses. … Some of the early things we have learned is that they have to be small enough to be manageable, they have to be managed, it can’t just be a free for all, there needs to be a structure and a system for it. … Done right, other cities have seen a lot of success with it, but we got a lot of details yet to be sorted out before the City of Albuquerque will start doing these.”
AN ADVERSION TO RULES AND DESIRE TO BE LEFT ALONE
City hall sanctioned encampments programs, especially those on city owned property, can not and must not be offered with no strings attached as to usage otherwise they will only make things worse for the city’s homeless crisis and to an extent interfere with the city’s other programs and encourage a life style as being sanctioned by the city.
A difficult realty that many who want to help the homeless have a hard time dealing with is that many homeless want to live their life as they choose, without any government nor family interference, and simply do not want anyone’s help. Many homeless do not seek help, even though they may desperately need it, especially those who suffer mental illness. It’s an aversion to rules, a desire to live as one chooses and many times the inability to qualify for help that makes things difficult for the homeless. The Tiny Home Village complex off east Central which serves as transitional housing for the homeless is a prime example of the problem.
Bernalillo County is having a hard time finding people to stay at the Tiny Home Village complex. The county spent $5 million to build the facility even as homeless encampments keep popping up all over the city. One year after the Tiny Home Village opened in the International District, 25 of the 30 homes are empty as nearby streets are lined with tents.
One of the city’s largest homeless encampments is right outside the Tiny Home Village. One of the biggest reasons for the Tiny Homes village being empty is all the rules that must be adhered to. To qualify for a Tiny Home, one must be free of drugs and alcohol. In addition to following the rules, residents are required to help around the complex. Many applicants for the Tiny Homes project can not make it past the vetting process.
WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?
As it stands now, city hall and the Keller Administration are spending upwards of $40 Million a year on city services to benefit the homeless or near homeless. That will increase next year by another $24,353,064. What is clear from the 2021 POINT-IN-TIME (PIT) REPORT is that progress is being made when it reported that 73.6% of the homeless population was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” situations. The 73.6% in the 2021 count is much a higher than the 2019 and 2017 PIT counts.
$950,000 out of a $1.4 Billion dollar budget does not sound like much for “ultra-low barrier encampments to set up in vacant dirt lots across the City” but when you add that amount to the millions already being spent to help the homeless, it must be questioned. City sanctioned encampments have the potential of making a crisis even worse, especially when such encampments will have negative impacts on surrounding neighborhoods.
There is very little doubt that once the public finds out about what Keller is up to in his budget, there will be significant opposition. At a very bare minimum, what needs to be disclosed to the public is the actual plan Mayor Keller and the city has for “city sanctioned homeless encampments”.
At a bare minimum, the full city council needs to demand answers to the following before funding city sanctioned homeless encampments:
1. Exact size or physical area of the encampments and visibility.
2. What areas of the city and locations being considered?
3. Will the Keller Administration ignore city zoning code requirement and special use permits or attempt change zoning laws on their own to simply allow for government sanctioned encampments where ever the administration wants them?
4. Will under-utilized city parks and city owned open space be allowed to be used? Bullhead park near the Veterans Hospital or even the vacant airport industrial park are comee to mind when there is talk of open space locations that are near homeless services in that both are in walking distance to the soon to be open Gateway Homeless Sheltet Center on Gibson.
5. Exactly what is “ultra-low barrier” usage and will allow visibility of the camps.
6. The number of people allowed on the camp site, the length of time of occupancy and the extent of screening of campers.
7. Location and site selection criteria, including proximity to residential areas, school, churches, hospitals and bars and recreational marijuana dispensaries.
8. The extent of rules imposed for usage, such no drug use, no weapons nor firearms or open fires
9. Security and management oversight to be provided by the city.
10. To what extent is the city assuming liability for any injury sustained to anyone who uses the camps?
11. To what extent the city council will be allowed to review and decide if “city sanctioned homeless encampments” will be allowed.
12. Will the city Mayor Administration be given exclusive authority to make the decisions on the encampments without any input from neighborhoods and the city council.
City hall sanctioned encampments programs for the homeless need to be fully vetted by the city council. At this point, the are a bad fit for the city and it will not be money well spent. Until such time as the Keller Administration can present a well thought out, detailed plan on the program, the City Council should deny the funding request of $950,000 from the proposed 2022-2023 budget. City sanctioned homeless encampments will only make things worse for the city’s homeless crisis and to an extent only encourage a life style as being sanctioned by the city.
The link to a related blog article is here:
Keller’s “Pretty Bland” $1.4 Billion 2023 City Budget Far From Bland With 18% Increase; 13% Pay Raises For Cops With Performance Measures Down And More Overtime; Anemic 2% Pay Raises For City Workforce; $900,000 For Open Space City Sanctioned “Homeless Encampments”