On Sept. 7, 2022, the Albuquerque City Council failed to override a vetoed bill which would have placed a moratorium on safe outdoor spaces for 12 months or until the amendment of the Integrated Development Ordinance. With a vote of 5-4 for overturning the veto, this project, which will provide temporary occupancy spaces for tents and vehicles as well as access to social services, will remain intact.
Six votes were needed to override the veto, making for a narrow win for safe outdoor spaces. Among the five council members who voted in favor of the overturn were Brook Bassan, Dan Lewis, Renee Grout, Clarissa Pena and Louie Sanchez.
Some opponents of safe outdoor spaces who spoke in public comment felt that the bill seemed rushed and that additional planning was needed before implementation. However, Councilor Pat Davis said that the SOS program’s initiative in creating operation guidelines has already been helpful in addressing concerns brought up in and out of the meeting.
“The things I saw that I thought were addressing neighbor concerns, for example, were a mandatory fence with a cover … There’s some separation and privacy for the people indoors. I saw, for example, that there were curfew hours … The city’s gonna screen residents; people can’t just come in and just sign in and sign out,” Davis said. ” They actually have to apply to the city for one of these locations, and they’re screened and matched to a location with the types of services and stuff that they need.”
Safe outdoor spaces are advantageous because there is simply not enough space in the current shelters in Albuquerque to accommodate the homeless population, according to Tony Watkins, program director for homeless assistance at the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. The capacity of the Westside Shelter, for instance, is only 600 compared to the 2,000 people in the housing intake system.
“I visited the Westside shelter and learned about its shortcomings from the people living there and the staff working there. There is no washing machine to wash clothes, the roof leaks and there is a back door that doesn’t open properly that is a fire hazard. It’s also an old prison and still has the excessive fencing and old features that one associates with a prison. It is also 15 miles out of town: there are good reasons why people wouldn’t wanna live there,” Watkins said.
Many who opposed safe outdoor space development specifically objected to the idea of having homeless camps built in their own neighborhoods given existing conditions in their areas and the crime they felt it would bring. One community member vehemently opposed a homeless encampment near her predominantly elderly neighborhood and went so far as to say that the unhoused population “have no respect for anybody else’s property.”
Councilor Brook Bassan said many of her constituents opposed SOS due to safety concerns; she urged the council to override the veto.
Other community members highly opposed to the override were primarily focused on the city’s intense housing crisis and difficulties housing unhoused people already; It takes an average of 700 days to get an unhoused person into housing from the onset of homelessness, according to Watkins. Community member Bruce Jefferson criticized the lack of compassion from SOS opponents, especially those who characterize all homeless people as criminals, which he said puts them into an unfair box and dehumanizes the entire population.
“All I ask is, where’s your compassion? I hear people talk about the homeless, we’ve heard a crisis about the homeless, people getting kicked out of their homes because of rent … ,” Jefferson said. “I don’t know what the solution is, but I urge you not to (overturn) this because you don’t know if it’ll work because you have not tried it.”
The next city council meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19 at the Albuquerque Government Center as well as streamed via GOV-TV.
Zara Roy is the copy chief for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo