On June 6, the Albuquerque City Council enacted a series of amendments updating the Integrated Development Ordinance. The legislation passed on a 5 to 4. One of the amendments was the “Safe Outdoor “Spaces”.
“Safe outdoor spaces” will permit homeless encampments with 40 designated spaces for tents, allow upwards of 50 people, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, 6 foot fencing and social services offered. The Integrated Development Ordinance amendment sets a limit of two in each of the city’s 9 council districts. The cap would not apply to those hosted by religious institutions.
Some councilors’ vehemently voiced opposition to “safe outdoor spaces” to the point that the city council voted down the entire update of the Integrated Development Ordiance (IDO). The bill contained well over 100 amendments containing many zoning code changes. The update of the IDO initially failed on a 4-5 vote during Monday’s meeting.
Republican Councilor Trudy Jones, who had voted against the update, subsequently asked to reconsider the legislation. She changed her vote on the second vote, giving the bill a narrow victory.
Republican Jones joined Republican Brook Bassan and Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelkorn to pass the legislation.
Republicans Renee Grout and Dan Lewis and Democrats Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez voted against it.
After the vote to allow “Safe Outdoor Spaces“, the council voted to defer to the June 22 meeting the enacted amendment on the “living lots” to the Keller administration to draft procedures for safe outdoor spaces. Mayor Tim Keller’s office will now start looking at locations and come up with the details of what resources would be available.
BENTON DOWNPLAYS HIS HEAVY-HANDED APPROACH
On June 8, it was reported that City Council President Isaac Benton said the safe outdoor spaces debate had overtaken the larger discussion of the Integrated Development Ordinance. Benton went so far as to argued that the “angst” may be much ado about nothing. Benton said he does not believe such camp sites will proliferate the city because he knows of only one organization , “a small religious congregation” within his Downtown-based district that has expressed interest in attempting one.
Benton claims that he supports the sanctioned camps on a temporary basis, he noted they may only have a “small niche of viability and helpfulness.” Benton told the Albquerque Journal:
“I really think we’re arguing over one little aspect that has sort of commandeered this code. Really qualified [homeless services] providers don’t even like this idea. … I like it as a possible test, and that’s the only place I was coming from with it.”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
Simply put, there will be nothing temporary about “city sanctioned” encampments as Democrat City Council President Isaac Benton suggests. Benton also shows a degree of real ignorance on land use zoning and planning law.
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 that are in walking distance to many residential areas. Upwards of 15% of the city would allow for “safe outdoor spaces as a “permissive use” or “conditional use”.
Under the law, once such permissive uses are granted, they become vested rights and cannot be rescinded by the city council. Also, there is no requirement of land ownership, meaning someone could seek a special use for a safe outdoor space and then turn around and lease their undeveloped open space property to who ever can afford to pay.
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 or safe outdoor spaces.
The link to the map prepared by the City entitled “Map 1 Council Districts Selected IDO Zoning” is here:
Benton did a real disservice to the overall interest of the city when he downplays what happened with the enactment of the safe outdoor spaces amendment and his heavy handed exercise of authority. As City Council President, Democrat Isaac Benton has the reputation of brow beating constituents and city officials during city council meeting or in private. When Benton does not like what you say, he brushes you off or cuts you off or simply ignores you.
Instead of calling a special meeting of the city council to discuss the 100 plus amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance, Benton as council president intentionally scheduled the amendments at the end of the June 6 regular meeting and after the city council took a lengthy dinner break. He also brushed off the comments from the public by giving only 90 seconds to each member of the public who showed up to speak and who waited hours to talk to the city council.
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
On June 9, KOB Channel 4 reported that the city officials as requested by the city council are laying out more details about what Albuquerque’s upcoming Safe Outdoor Spaces could look like in coming months. According to the report, the city wants to have a “safe outdoor space” up and running by the end of the summer. There are already two church congregations interested in providing space.
Elizabeth Holguin, the deputy director of Homeless Solutions in Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services Department, had this to say about the city’s plans to going forward with Safe Outdoors Spaces:
“We are not trying to put Coronado parks everywhere. A safe outdoor space is the opposite of what you see at Coronado and other unsanctioned encampments. … Usually the site will provide meals, there’s always bathrooms and hand washing stations, sometimes showers, sometimes Wi-Fi is provided, there’s a whole gamut of options that could happen with enough resources. … Just as in anybody’s home you know what they do in their tent is their business. … However, there is no drug dealing, no sort of transactions at all or any display of paraphilia in the common space. … Having the safe outdoor spaces would give that extra … layer of protection for the police department to be able to more definitively say you know ‘you want to camp, you can’t camp here, this is where you can camp now.”
Holguin said her department is working out those details with the Mayor’s Office and the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and how to deal with the homeless. The city is hoping the spaces will serve as connection points for case management resources so people can work toward permanent housing and job training.
It was revealed for the first time that the cost of a Safe Open Space will range in price from $70,000 to $360,000 depending on the “bells and whistles.” For example, Camp Hope in Las Cruces operates on a $70,000 budget, but each one is different.
According to the city, it is not planning to put multiple spaces in each city council district. What the city is looking at for now is to to start with one and go from there.
Family and Community Services is proposing one more resolution be enacted at the city council meeting later on June 29 . If that passes, the city wants to have a “safe outdoor space” up and running by the end of the summer with two church congregations interested in providing space.
NEWS MEDIA FAILS TO REPORT ON RECINDED SPECIAL ORDER
When Elizabeth Holguin tells KOB 4 that the Family Community Services Department is working with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) on how to deal with the homeless, she did not disclose that APD has in fact rescinded its SPECIAL ORDER 22-46 that severely limited police to enforce the city laws and that gave Family and Community Services authority over APD police to dictate what police could do with the homeless when dealing with encampments. The special order Special order 22-26 was an abuse of power by Chief Harold Median. Special Order 22-46 provided in part:
“Sworn personnel shall make all reasonable efforts to pursue non¬ punitive, services-based approaches and shall not attempt to enforce littering, trespassing, obstruction of sidewalk, and other laws and ordinances … unless [the Family Community Services Department] FCS personnel request such enforcement and only after FCS Department personnel … determine that the individual is continuing to trespass after being given notice and an opportunity to stop.”
“Sworn personnel shall neither damage nor remove an encampment without coordinating with [Family Community Services] … Department personnel … unless an encampment creates an immediate hazard or obstruction.
If an encampment creates an immediate hazard or obstruction, sworn personnel shall immediately contact [Family Community Services Department] personnel … to determine whether they are available to respond.
If they are unavailable, sworn personnel may remove only the items that create an immediate hazard or obstruction and coordinate with FCS Department personnel … to store any personal property that was removed … pursuant to the … Policy for Responding to Encampments on Public Property.”
“Immediate Hazard” is defined in the Special Order as follows:
“A situation in which an encampment creates an immediate and articulable risk of serious injury or death to either the residents of the encampment or others. The mere possession of illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, or a weapon does not in and of itself constitute an immediate hazard.”
“Only FCS Department personnel … shall make the determination that an encampment must be removed. Sworn personnel shall rely on FCS Department personnel … to conduct outreach before an unlawful encampment is removed, unless the encampment creates an immediate hazard or obstruction.”
Sworn personnel shall not throw away or remove any personal property associated with the encampment. Sworn personnel shall not direct any other agency or person to throw away or remove any personal property.”
SPECIAL ORDER SO 22-46 RESCINDED
Not a single news agency reported on issuance of Special Order 22-46.
On June 3, APD Chief Harold Medina authorized the issuance of a formal recission of Special Order SO 22-46. It was signed by Deputy Chief Michael Smothers with sources confirming that Chief Medina was out of town.
Below it the recission order in full sent out on APD letter head:
June 2, 2002
DEPARTMENT SPECIAL ORDER – SO 22-46 (RESCINDED)
TO: ALL PERSONNEL
SUBJECT: PROCESS FOR RESPONDING TO AN UNLAWFUL ENCAMPMENT ON PUBLIC PROPERTY (RESCINDED)
“Effective immediately, Department Special Order 22-46, Process for Responding to an Unlawful Encampment on Publc Property, is now rescinded.
Questions about this Special Order may be directed to Field Services Bureau Deputy Chief of Police Joshua Brown.”
Acting Chief of Police
AS ORGINALLY PROPOSED
The “safe outdoor spaces” amendment was originally proposed 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. 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.
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.
“COMMUNITIES OF TENTS” OUTLINED FOR “SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES”
On Tuesday, May 10, the City of Albuquerque made a presentation before the Bernalillo County’s Homeless Coordinating Council elaborating on its plans for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. The presentation was made by Elizabeth Holguin with the City’s Family and Community Services Department.
According to Holguin, the city envisions that “Safe Outdoor Spaces” would be communities of tents for the homeless population, uniform in design and structure, and fenced in for safety.
Holguin told the coordinating council:
“Not anyone can just walk up. … People will be accepted based on outreach worker referral. … Resources like bathrooms, showers, electricity, shade structures, sometimes even internet [will be provided] … Definitely handwashing stations. There’s often connections to food and meals and all of the different outreach services that can be provided. … You cannot bring anything that does not fit into your structure. You get a storage bin, sleeping area, and chair. … there would be policies preventing weapons, and the safe spaces would be supervised by a management team. … Drugs and alcohol would be allowed inside tents, the same way they are allowed in homes but obviously there’s no drug dealing [allowed]”.
City recognized that the tents are not a solution to homelessness, but hope they will help curb the metro’s crime crisis by providing a safer alternative to life on the street.
The link to quoted source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a much larger return on investment than offering government sanctioned encampments and “tent cities”. 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 in housing and services. 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.
Too many elected and government officials 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” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. They will destroy neighborhoods, make the city a magnet for the homeless and destroy the city efforts to manage the homeless through housing.
On June 22, the City Council has the option to reconsider their vote on the Integrated Development Ordinance and vote on the Safe Outdoor Space resolution being prepared by the Family and Community Services Dearment. Reconsideration of the Integrated Development Ordinance would require at least one city councilor who voted for the IDO to change their vote. This means Republicans Trudy Jones or Brook Bassan, and Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelkorn would have to move to reconsider and change their vote on the Integrated Development Ordinance and the amendments.
The public needs to make their opinions known and tell the city council to reject Safe Outdoor Spaces at the June 22 city council meeting. The email address to contact each city councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows: