The City Council is proposing to create two new “land use” zoning areas to allow 2 separate types of city sanctioned homeless encampments in all 9 city council districts for a total of 18 city sanctioned homeless encampments. Both are amendments updating the city’s 2017 Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) that regulates residential and commercial zoning development and land use throughout the city.
One is called “living lots” and the other “safe outdoor spaces”. City sanctioned homeless encampments will be permitted in open space areas and “commercial, business park and manufacturing zones and in some mixed-use zones”.
Albuquerque North East Heights Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan, District 4, is proposing new city zoning areas called “living lots” to deal with the city’s very visible homeless population.
Under living lots zoning, open space areas would be designated where people would be allowed to sleep overnight in tents, cars or RVs. Empty parking lots and other unused space could be used. Living lots would provide appointed spaces for people who may otherwise already be sleeping in parks, on sidewalks and in arroyos.
Living lots would have to include restrooms and handwashing stations, even if just portable units. The proposal would allow “living lots” in mixed-use and nonresidential zones. Property ownership would not be required. Charitable organizations or homeless service providers could lease open space property for living lots. The city could identify some of its own property or work with other public agencies, and even private landowners, to find locations.
No management plans, no rules, no regulations, no security and no fencing mandates would be required. Under the proposal, the city would bear responsibility for cleaning and maintaining.
BASSAN’S ADVOCACY FOR LIVING LOTS
In sponsoring the new zoning, Councilor Brook Bassan described “living lots” as “step one” in a services continuum and an easier-to-access option saying there is a need to make immediate headway on the City’s homelessness crisis.
During the May 2, city council meeting, Bassan said this about living lots:
“[This is a] low-cost, low-barrier compromise. … People are currently camping everywhere; people are currently defecating anywhere. People need help throughout our city. … We’re tired of it; we’re frustrated. They’re tired of it, they’re frustrated. … We’re finding that middle ground. If you want to live in a tent, some people just want to, you can live in a tent, but you can’t do it just anywhere.”
According to Bassan, living lots could ultimately require less manpower and resources than the city presently expends breaking up and clearing unsanctioned campsites throughout the city. She argues that living lots will be an inexpensive, temporary and easy action the city can take while completing such larger-scale initiatives as the Gateway Center shelter in Southeast Albuquerque.
Bassan contends that providing low-barrier campsites could make it easier for the city to enforce such laws as trespassing or loitering when people are sleeping at unauthorized sites because the city can offer an alternative.
During the May 2 meeting, mid – heights Democrat City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, District 7, defended the morality of providing choices beyond a shelter saying some people living on the streets are still too traumatized to stay inside a shelter and said this:
“The answer for those folks is to find something that works for them that gets them away from parks, away from open space, and away from your alleyways. … That is the humane answer we keep talking about.”
The link to quoted source material is here:
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
The “safe outdoor spaces” amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) calls for the creation of government sanctioned homeless campsites where the homeless will be able to sleep and tend to personal hygiene. This amendment to the IDO is sponsored by City Councilor Pat Davis. The proposed zone change can be summarized as follows:
1. Not more than 1 sanctioned campsites will be allowed in any one of the city’s 9 city council districts, or 9 total campsites, and the campsites would be limited to 40 tents, cars or recreational vehicles.
EDITOR’S NOTE: It was originally proposed that 5 sanctioned campsites would be allowed in each of the city’s 9 city council districts, or 40 total campsites, but that number has been reduced to one.
2. Each campsite will be required to have a certain number of water-flush or composting toilets, or portable facilities, hand-washing stations and showers based on occupancy.
3. It would require a surrounding wall or screen at least 6 feet high for those using tents.
4. Operators of the campsites, which could include churches and nonprofit organizations, would have to provide the city with a management plan or security agreement proving the site has 24/7 on-site support and security.
5. Operators would offer occupants some form of social services and support facilities.
6. The homeless campsites would be prohibited from being allowed within 330 feet of low-density residential areas. Religious institutions would have more flexibility for locating them.
7. The campsites would be permitted in certain commercial, business park and manufacturing zones and in some mixed-use zones after a public hearing.
According to City Officials, in most instances, the encampments would be set up and managed by churches or nonprofits.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION IN EACH CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT
A map prepared by the city detailing where “living lots” and “safe outdoor space” zoning would be allowed for encampments revealed numerous areas in each of the 9 City Council districts. Upwards of 15% of the city would allow for “safe outdoor spaces as a “permissive use” or “conditional use”.
The map reveals a large concentration of eligible open space area that lies between San Pedro and the railroad tracks, north of Menaul to the city’s northern boundary. The map does not account for religious institutions that may want to use their properties for living lots.
A link to the map prepared by the City entitled “Map 1 Council Districts Selected IDO Zoning” is here:
Coronado Park is considered by many as the heart of Albuquerque’s homeless crisis. Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park has essentially become the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day.
At any given time, Coronado Park will have 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area. It comes with and extensive history lawlessness including drug use, violence, murder, rape and mental health issues. In 2020, there were 3 homicides at Coronado Park. In 2019, a disabled woman was raped, and in 2018 there was a murder.
Police 911 logs reveal a variety of other issues. In February 2019, police investigated a stabbing after a fight broke out at the park. One month before the stabbing, police responded to a call after a woman said she was suicidal, telling police on lapel camera video that she had previously made attempts to overdose on meth.
City officials have said Coronado Park is the subject of daily responses from the encampment team because of the number of tent’s set up there. They say the encampment team, along with Parks and Recreation Department , and Solid Waste go out every morning, during the week, to give campers notice and clean up the park. They also work on getting them connected to resources and services they may need.
BASSAN’S ABQ JOURNAL GUEST COLUMN
On Sunday, May 8, the Albuquerque Journal publish an editorial guest column written by Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan, where she wrote advocating for “Living Lots” and “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. Bassan wrote in pertinent part as follows:
“Our unhoused neighbors need help. Now. We agree something must be done. Albuquerque, like many other cities, is seeing a record number of people experiencing homelessness. Unsheltered people are everywhere in town. There are encampments in city parks, alleys, sidewalks and underpasses.
If we decamp folks from one spot, they end up at another, which is equally troubling. The cycle continues and repeats, obtaining no productive result for anyone. It’s a terrible situation for unsheltered people, a waste of resources for the city, a continual source of frustration for people living and working here.”
Because there are numerous reasons people are unhoused, we need numerous workable solutions. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation. Trauma, financial challenges, mental health illness, addiction, medical issues, unsupportive families and lack of job training are just some reasons for homelessness in our community. Seniors, adults, youth and children are experiencing homelessness. We need multiple, targeted solutions for different experiences.
[“Living lots” , “safe outdoor spaces” and “motel conversions for affordable housing”] … are stop-gap measures to stem the tide of homelessness, not ideal solution that fix everything for everyone. They may or may not work perfectly. If we need to make changes or cancel these, we will. The current situation is not working for anyone, so let’s try something new.”
The link to the entire Bassan guest column is here:
Bassan’s guest column failed to even attempt to identify the actual numbers of homeless in Albuquerque. She also failed to outline what the city is actually spending a year to help the homeless. Both the homeless numbers and what the city is spending merit review.
ALBUQUERQUE’S HOMELESS NUMBERS
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines sheltered homeless as “residing in an emergency shelter, motel paid through a provider or in a transitional housing program.” HUD defines “unsheltered homeless” as “those sleeping in places not meant for human habitation including streets, parks, alleys, underpasses, abandoned buildings, campgrounds and similar environments.”
Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The most current PIT survey was conducted in 2021. 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 efforts.
The 2021 PIT count found 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.
The link to quoted statistics is here:
CITY’S FINANCIAL COMMITEMENT TO HELP HOMELESS OR NEAR HOMELESS IN THE MILLIONS
According to the most current PIT annual report, there were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque. The 2021 PIT count found 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.
This past fiscal year 2021 ending June 10, 2021, the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration have spent upwards of $40 Million by to benefit the homeless or near homeless. The 2021 adopted city budget for Family and Community Services Department provides for emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,688,094, affordable housing and community contracts totaling $22,531,752, homeless support services contracts totaling $3,384,212, mental health contracts totaling $4,329,452, and substance abuse contracts for counseling contracts totaling $2,586,302.
The link to the 2021-2022 city approved budget is here:
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.
$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, 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:
$12 PER YEAR RATE HIKE PROPOSED FOR HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT CLEAN UP
The Albuquerque City Council is considering a proposal to raise residential trash collection rates by $1 per month to cover the rising costs of cleaning up unsanctioned homeless camps throughout the city. The trash collection increase would generate $2.2 million annually for the Solid Waste Management Department. Democrat City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Isaac Benton are sponsoring the rate-increase legislation at Democrat Mayor Tim Keller’s request.
The trash collection rate increase would raise a resident’s monthly cost for a trash bin to $18 from the current rate of $17. The rate increase would take effect on July 1, 2022 and the additional funding would go to the “Clean Cities Program.”
Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan said the additional funding would cover 17 to 20 more employees to clean up after the city clears encampments in unauthorized locations such as parks. Whelan said the Solid Waste Department currently has two cleanup crews but the new revenue would allow a crew dedicated to each quadrant of the city and a floater crew. Whelan said this:
“Every day they would handle calls in that quadrant, because right now we kind of have two crews for the whole city and they go all over the city based on need. … These would be a more proactive approach on how to deal with the encampments. ”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
OBSCENE RATE HIKE
Given the fact that the homeless in Albuquerque are becoming more and more visible, it is clear that more than two clean-up crews are needed. A crew dedicated to each quadrant of the city and a floater crew is the pro active approach the city needs. What is not needed is a garbage rate hike increase.
What can only be characterized as obscene and financial mismanagement is Democrat Mayor Tim Keller requesting a $12 a year garbage rate hike increase and Democrat City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Isaac Benton going along with it in the middle of the 2023 fiscal year budget process and council hearings.
The City Counsels Committee of the Whole is conducting budget hearing on Mayor Tim Keller’s proposed $1.4 billion city budget that must be enacted on before July 1. The overall budget submitted for review and approval of the Albuquerque City council is for $1.4 Billion. $841.8 million 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 general fund provides funding for city essential and basic services, including funding for the solid waste department.
With $127 million in new revenue in a $1.4 Billion dollar city budget, it is downright pathetic that Keller asks for a $12 a year garbage rate hike to generate $2.2 million annually for the Solid Waste Management Department so that it can clean up homeless encampments. The City Council needs to say no to the both the zoning changes and the rate hike and find the money within the proposed budget.
The 2022 proposed budget provides major funding to deal with the homeless including funding of $750,000 for proposed “safe outdoor and additional $200,000 for developing other sanctioned encampment programs. This $950,000 in funding should be used instead for homeless encampment clean ups.
Illegal homeless encampments are a law enforcement problem. One budget where the $2.2 million can be found would be within the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) budget. APD is the largest city budget out of 27 departments. The fiscal year 2023 proposed General Fund budget is $255.4 million, which represents an increase of 14.7% or $32.8 million above the fiscal year 2022 level. APD Chief Harold Medina told the city council during his department’s budget hearing that APD is projected to $12,390,000 in unspent sworn police salaries on June 30, 2023 the end of Fiscal Year 2023.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
When City Councilor Brook Bassan writes “Our unhoused neighbors need help. Now. We agree something must be done” she ostensibly is clueless as to what is now actually being done by the city and the large amount being spent to help the homeless, which is upwards of $114,0000,0000. Use of the term “unhoused neighbors” by Bassan was unfortunate and laughable when they are illegal “unwanted squatters”. When Bassan says “If we need to make changes or cancel these, we will” she has a gross ignorance of how the city’s zoning laws work. The city council can not simply reverse the decision to allow for “living lots” and “safe outdoor spaces” once a “conditional use” or “permissive use” is granted to an applicant and property owner.
Democrat City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn’s comments defending the morality of providing choices beyond a shelter saying some people living on the streets are still too “traumatized to stay inside a shelter” is misplaced. The comments reflect a level of naivete and ignorance. She assumes many of homeless are “traumatized”, when many are not, and all too many are just “squatters”. The city is in fact meeting its moral obligation to help the homeless with the city spending upwards of $114 Million with housing assistance vouchers, services and shelter for the homeless.
HOUSING THE MOST EFFECTIVE APPROACH
Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a much larger return on investment than offering government sanctioned encampments. Given the millions the city is spending each year, it needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.
Albuquerque is making a huge financial commitment to help the homeless. Last year, it spent upwards of $40 million to benefit the homeless. The 2023 proposed budget significantly increases funding for the homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. The city contracts with 10 separate homeless service providers throughout the city and it funds the Westside 24-7 homeless shelter.
The city has bought the 572,000-square-foot Lovelace Hospital Complex on Gibson for $15 million that currently has space of 200 beds or more and transforming it into the Gateway Center Homeless shelter. City officials have said that the city expect to launch multiple services on the property this winter, including a 50-bed women’s shelter, a sobering center and a space designed to deliver “medical respite” care for individuals who would have no place other than a hospital to recover from illnesses and injury.
MANAGING HOMELESS CRISIS MUST INCLUDE ENFORCING LAWS
Coronado Park at 4th Street and the Freeway has been Albuquerque’s “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampments for the last 10 years with city officials offering services to the homeless who camp there and repeatedly cleaning up the park only to allow the homeless to move back in and camp. At any given time upwards of 70 tents are on the property. Coronado Park clearly shows that sanctioned encampments do not work. Government sanctioned encampments destroy neighborhoods and businesses and deprive others of peaceful use and enjoyment of their own property.
Too many elected officials like City Counselors Tammy Fiebelkorn and Brook Bassan who want to establish government sanction encampments have a hard time dealing with the facts that many homeless adults simply want to live their life as they choose, where they want to camp for as long as they can get away with it, without any government nor family interference and especially no government rules and no regulations.
The city cannot just ignore and not enforce its anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance laws and criminal laws nor pretend they simply do not exist. Squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers or alternatives to living on the street really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” anywhere they want and force them to move on. After repeated attempts to force them to move on and citations arrests are in order.
The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city, but it can and must be managed. Providing a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve themselves, bathe and sleep at night with rules they do not want nor will likely follow is not the answer to the homeless crisis. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around, become productive self-sufficient citizens, no longer dependent on relatives or others.
“Safe outdoor spaces” and “living lots” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. Both will destroy neighborhoods, make the city a magnet for the homeless and destroy the city efforts to manage the homeless through housing. The public needs to make their opinions known and tell the city council to reject both zoning allowances.
Both proposed zoning changes will be heard by the City Council on May 16.