The Homeless Coordinating Council (HCC) is a collaborative body made up of members from the City of Albuquerque, the County of Bernalillo, and the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico. The HCC’s purpose is to deliver a coordinated community-wide framework for expanding and strengthening services and permanent affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness in the Albuquerque metro area.
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.
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. 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.
“Living lots” zoning would be open space areas 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.
“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 representatives told the coordinating council Safe Outdoor Spaces has seen success in Denver, Colorado. City official also 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 initiative is still in its early planning stages, so size and potential locations remain up in the air.
The link to quoted source material is here:
“TENT CITY, USA”
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.
In 2017, The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty released a study entitled “TENT CITY, USA The Growth of America’s Homeless Encampments and How Communities are Responding” with the link here:
In 2018, the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty released a study entitled “Welcome The Rise of Tent Cities in the United States” with the link here:
The following was 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 percent 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%, 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.”
The link to the news source is here:
Coronado Park is considered by many as the epicenter 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.
The link to the news source is here:
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.
SCANT EVIDENCE SHOWING IMPACT OF SHELTERS ON SURROUNDING AREA
The UNM Homelessness Research Taskforce is made up of 14 people from departments across the UNM campus. The taskforce was asked by the Homeless Coordinating Council to study the issue of how homeless shelters affect the surrounding community. Over the past year, the taskforce did the research and it had two aims:
1. Review existing data to see how different types of housing services relate to repeat homelessness and
2. What works best for different populations, and to study the risks and benefits of emergency homeless shelters to communities.
Research has been demanded repeatedly by Southeast Albuquerque residents fighting the city’s plans for the Gateway Center homeless shelter and services center on Gibson Boulevard on what will be the effects of the shelter. Some community members have demanded an in-depth neighborhood impact assessment of the Gibson area believing the effects could reach up to 2 miles. According to UNM research team member Janet Page-Reeves, such an extensive and specific project would require more time and resources
On May 10, Page-Reeves provided an executive summary presentation to the Homeless Coordinating Council telling the council the challenges of answering the shelter effect question. She told the council:
“Very little research has been published on the impact of emergency shelters … but from the sparse literature, there is some evidence regarding both associated benefits and risks [but that information was not] “robust”. ”
According to Page-Reeves, existing literature about crime and shelters shows an “increased likelihood of crime” within a fourth- to half-mile radius, though the types of crime change. Vandalism and armed robbery go down, according to the research, but petty crimes like theft go up and “the people that are the victims of the crime tend to be those experiencing homelessness themselves”.
When it comes to property values, Page-Reeves said research reflects some effect within the immediate vicinity, but no evidence it extends beyond 1,000 feet of the shelter. And a shelter may have some positive and some negative impacts on nearby businesses.
UNM Homelessness Research Taskforce member Brady Horn reiterated that there is other research that is much less ambiguous. Horn told the Homeless Coordinating Council
“I just want to make sure we’re clear: providing housing does reduce crime . … [But] it’s unclear exactly what happens right around the shelter.”
Other findings from the UNM research team include:
• Those with lived experience reported that the eligibility qualifications for many support services are too rigid to meet.
• Nearly half (49%) of those who get enrolled in the state’s homelessness information management system as they seek shelter or other services have a disability. The category includes chronic health conditions and substance use disorders. 58% of those who have at least one additional enrollment have a disability.
• About a third of families enrolling in services are fleeing domestic violence.
The link to quoted news 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. 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 EXISTING LAWS
Coronado Park at 4th Street and the Freeway has been the 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.
Too many elected and government 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 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 repeated 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. The email address to contact each city councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows: