On June 6, the Albuquerque City Council enacted upwards of 100 amendments updating the Integrated Development Ordinance. The legislation passed on a 5 to 4. One of the amendments was for city sanctioned homeless encampments called “Safe Outdoor “Spaces”.
“Safe outdoor spaces” will permit 2 homeless encampments in all 9 city council disitricts with 40 designated spaces for tents, they will allow upwards of 50 people, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, 6 foot fencing and social services offered. Although 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.
A map prepared by the city detailing where “safe outdoor space” zoning would be allowed for encampments revealed numerous areas in each of the 9 City Council districts that are adjacent to or 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Under the law, once such permissive uses are granted, they become vested property rights and cannot be rescinded by the city council.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:
After the vote to adopt the amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance, including the “Safe Outdoor Spaces“ amendment, the council voted to defer to the June 22 meeting the Safe Outdoor Space amendment to the Keller administration to draft procedures for safe outdoor spaces. Mayor Tim Keller’s office has been instructed to look at locations and come up with the details of what resources would be available.
CITY COUNCIL CAN STILL REJECT SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
On June 22, the City Council has the option to reconsider their vote on the Integrated Development Ordinance and the Safe Outdoor Spaces amendment. That would require at least one city councilor who voted for the Integrated Development Ordinance and Safe Outdoor spaces to change their vote. Meaning one or more of the city councilors of Trudy Jones, Brook Bassan, 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 links to quoted news sources are here:
SHELTERED VERSUS UNSHELDTERED
Rachel Biggs is the chief strategy officer with Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless. She has said the homeless population experiences violence at a rate 25 times higher than the general population. According to Biggs, in New Mexico, unsheltered homelessness has higher rates of early mortality, dying 20 to 30 years sooner than those who are housed.
Biggs had this to say:
“Everyone in the community] can agree that people should not be forced to live outside. … I know we are all coming at this from different viewpoints but when we talk about folks living unsheltered in our community, we look at it as an issue of human rights, social justice and health for everyone in a community. … [Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless invests resources] into solutions that we know hold up to ending homelessness and that is housing.”
The link to the quoted source material is here:
FOUR MURDERS AT CORONADO PARK IN 2 YEARS
Coronado Park, located at third and Interstate 40, is considered by many as the epicenter of Albuquerque’s homeless crisis. On June 14, it was reported that the Albuquerque Police Department was called out to Coronado Park investigate a shooting that left a man dead. The Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR) was contacted around 2:40 a.m. Tuesday morning about a man who was “down and out” at Coronado Park. Police say AFR went to check on the man and discovered he had suffered from a gunshot wound.
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. Residents and businesses located near the park have complained to the city repeatedly about the city’s unwritten policy to allow the park to be used as an encampment and its use as a drop off by law enforcement for those who are transported from the westside jail.
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.
MAYOR TIM KELLER SUPPORTS SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
During an unrelated news conference on the city’s expansion of its speed camera system, Mayor Keller was asked about the latest killing at Coronado Park and why something is not being done about it being used as a homeless encampment.
In response to the questioning, Keller said he and the city has plans for addressing homelessness. Those plans include the long-awaited Gateway Center shelter and services center at the old Lovelace hospital. Keller said the Gateway Center project has been delayed due to neighborhood opposition and a “never-ending purgatory of policy”. Mayor Keller also noted that the city plans include “safe outdoor spaces” as part of its plans to deal with the homeless.
During the news conference, Mayor Keller admitted that he and his Administration condoned and supported Coronado Park being used as a “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment. Keller said this:
“[The federal courts] will not allow us to just walk in and arrest someone because they’re homeless and the current situation beats the alternative. … It is not lost on me that we created Coronado Park because Wells Park said, ‘We don’t want these folks in our neighborhood,’ and we agree with them. And that’s why they were all grouped to one area. … So you also got to remember the alternative. You can’t have it both ways — you want to close Coronado Park, you are going to open all of Wells Park neighborhood to something none of us want to see.”
Link to quoted news source material:
“TENT CITY, USA”
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”. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is a national legal group dedicated to ending and preventing homelessness. It works to expand access to affordable housing, meet the immediate and long-term needs of those who are homeless or at risk, and strengthen the social safety-net through policy advocacy, public education, impact litigation, and advocacy training and support.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has released two studies relating to “safe outdoor spaces” and tent citys with titles and links here:
“TENT CITY, USA The Growth of America’s Homeless Encampments and How Communities are Responding”
“Welcome The Rise of Tent Cities in the United States”
The following is gleaned from the studies prepared the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:
Tent cities have been reported in the majority of states, 46 of 51 jurisdictions (including the District of Columbia). Of all of these, only 8 encampments had a legalized status. Three more were moving in that direction, meaning that through municipal ordinance or formal agreement, the tent city had been sanctioned by the community and was either allowed to self-govern or was created by service providers working with the city. Ten tent cities had at least a semi-sanctioned status, meaning that although not formally recognized, public officials were aware of the encampments and were not taking active steps to have them evicted.
“In the past decade, documented homeless encampments have dramatically increased across the country. Research showed a 1,342 percent increase in the number of unique homeless encampments reported in the media, from 19 reported encampments in 2007 to a high of 274 reported encampments in 2016 [the last full year for data], and with 255 already reported by mid 2017, the trend appears to be continuing upward. Two thirds of this growth comes after the Great Recession of 2007-2012 was declared over, suggesting that many are still feeling the long-term effects.
Unique homeless encampments were reported in every state and the District of Columbia. California had the highest number of reported encampments by far, but states as diverse as Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, and Virginia each tallied significant numbers of reported encampments.
Half the reports that recorded the size of the encampments showed a size of 11-50 residents, and 17% of encampments had more than 100 residents.
Close to two-thirds of reports which recorded the time in existence of the encampments showed they had been there for more than one year, and more than one-quarter had been there for more than five years.
Three-quarters of reports which recorded the legal status of the encampments showed they were illegal; 4% were reported to be legal, 20% were reported to be semi-legal (tacitly sanctioned)
This increase in encampments reflects the growth in homelessness overall, and provides evidence of the inadequacy (and sometimes inaccessibility) of the U.S. shelter system. The growth of homelessness is largely explained by rising housing costs and stagnant wages.
Municipalities often face pressure to “do something” about the problem of visible homelessness. For many cities, the response has been an increase in laws prohibiting encampments and an increase in enforcement.
[A survey of ] the laws and policies in place in 187 cities across the country … found:
33% of cities prohibit camping city-wide, and 50 percent prohibit camping in particular public places, increases of 69% and 48% from 2006-16, respectively.
50% have either a formal or informal procedure for clearing or allowing encampments. Many more use trespass or disorderly conduct statutes in order to evict residents of encampments.
Only five cities (2.7% ) have some requirement that alternative housing or shelter be offered when a sweep of an encampment is conducted.
Only 20 (11%) had ordinances or formal policies requiring notice prior to clearing encampments. Of those, five can require as little as 24 hours’ notice before encampments are evicted, though five require at least a week, and three provide for two weeks or more. An additional 26 cities provided some notice informally, including two providing more than a month.
Only 20 cities (11 percent) require storage be provided for possessions of persons residing in encampments if the encampment is evicted. The length of storage required is typically between 30 and 90 days, but ranged from 14 to 120 days.
Regional analysis found western cities have more formal policies than any other region of the country, and are more likely to provide notice and storage.
Using the criminal justice system and other municipal resources to move people who have nowhere else to go is costly and counter-productive, for both communities and individuals. …
Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a larger return on investment.
Other cities spend thousands of dollars on fences, bars, rocks, spikes, and other “hostile” or “aggressive” architecture, deliberately making certain areas of their community inaccessible to homeless persons without shelter.
Many communities state they need criminalization ordinances to provide law enforcement with a “tool” to push people to accept services, such as shelter. Conducting outreach backed with resources for real alternatives, however, is the approach that has shown the best, evidence-based results.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign found permanent housing for more than 100,000 of the most “service-resistant” chronically homeless individuals across America by listening to their needs and providing appropriate alternatives that actually meet their needs.
Most cities in the United States have insufficient shelter beds for the number of people experiencing homelessness; in some cities, the shortage is stark.
So when law enforcement tells residents of encampments to go to a shelter, they risk finding the shelter full. Even where shelter beds are open, they are not always appropriate, or even adequate, for all people.
Many shelters are available only to men or only to women; some require children, others do not allow children. Some do not ensure more than one night’s stay, requiring daily long waits in line- sometimes far from other alternatives.
The survey of 187 cities found only 10 of these cities have explicitly permitted some form of legalized camping. Encampments are not an appropriate long term solution to homelessness or the nation’s affordable housing crisis.
In order to be successful, legalized encampments require a tremendous amount of planning, consultation, and collaboration with all stakeholders, most especially the homeless residents of the encampment. In many cases, this time and effort may be better spent developing other interim or permanent housing solutions.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
What Mayor Tim Keller and the City Council should have learned from Coronado Park, and all the violent crime that has occurred there, is that government sanctioned homeless encampments that “Safe Outdoor Spaces” embody simply do not work. They are magnets for crime and will likely become a public nuisance that injurious to public health, safety and welfare and will interferes with the exercise and enjoyment of public rights, including the right to use public property. The practical effect of the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” amendment will be to create “mini” Coronado Parks in all 9 city council districts.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty research clearly 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”. There is nothing temporary about “city sanctioned” encampments with “safe outdoor spaces”.
If the City Council and the Mayor persist in going down the road of allowing 18 “safe outdoor spaces”, it will be a major setback for the city and its current policy of seeking permanent shelter and housing as the solution to the homeless crisis. 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.
Too many elected and government officials who want to establish government sanction encampments have a hard time dealing with the fact 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 has a moral obligation to help the homeless, especially those who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction. The city is in fact meeting that moral obligation. 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.
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 is expected 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.
The massive facility could be remodeled even further to house the homeless and convert offices, treating rooms, operating rooms and treatment rooms into temporary housing accommodations. The onsite auditorium and cafeteria could also be utilized for counseling and feeding programs from service providers.
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.”
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.
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 Department. 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 Mayor Keller and the City council to reject Safe Outdoor Spaces at the June 22 city council meeting. The email address to contact Mayor Keller and Interim Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael and each City Councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows: