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Councilors prepare prior to the Sept. 7 Albuquerque City Council meeting at the Albuquerque Government Center. 

New ordinances stall future development of safe outdoor spaces for unhoused

On Monday, Dec. 5, the Albuquerque City Council passed an ordinance on a 5-4 vote to effectively stop zoning privileges and new proposals for the creation of safe outdoor spaces, an initiative to create dedicated spaces for the unhoused to temporarily stay at and receive social service support.

The Integrated Development Ordinance determines land use and establishes zoning regulations in the city of Albuquerque. This passage would remove all reference of safe outdoor spaces from the IDO, stopping future development of SOS in the city, though the two SOS that have already been approved and the three pending approval will still move forward.

Councilor Brook Bassan, the sponsor of the ordinance, said that this legislation came in response to community backlash over SOS.

“This is a way that we can, at this point, try safe outdoor spaces, and then also listen to the community and really what’s an overwhelming majority of people who have continued to reach out requesting that we don’t proceed with this,” Bassan said.

Councilor Dan Lewis said that organizations and neighborhood associations across his district widely oppose safe outdoor spaces. He noted that the opinions of the councilors on this topic have been firm, alongside those of the community.

“Again, I don’t think anything has changed as far as where we stand on this, but also what’s clear is the community’s stance hasn’t changed on this either,” Lewis said.

Several community members spoke out against the ordinance. Community member Andrea Calderon argued that providing these safe spaces would help decrease the risk of incarceration, which is particularly high among the unhoused and markedly expensive. 10% of incarcerated people in the state were homeless prior to incarceration, according to a report from Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless.

She also said that SOS for the unhoused would help cut required costs in law enforcement and other costs related to policing the unhoused. She cited the recent closing of Coronado Park, which cost around $700,000 in cleanup, according to Calderon.

Several community members also raised concern over sweeps conducted by law enforcement of homeless encampments, which would seemingly be alleviated by the SOS program.

“Removing all references to safe outdoor spaces in the (Integrated Development Ordinance) will not remove the problem of homelessness in our city. It will simply reduce the resources available to the city and to nonprofit organizations to provide alternatives to the current grim process of sweeping temporary sites of shelter and hounding unhoused persons from one site to another,” community member Rosemary Blanchard said.

None of the councilors opposing the bill spoke during discussion — opinions on safe outdoor spaces among City Council have been largely unchanged since the original ordinance's inception. The same 5-4 vote consisted of the same councilors on either side during the last two major decisions on safe outdoor spaces on Sept. 7 and Oct. 12, both attempting to overturn vetoes for ordinances to cut funding for SOS.

Councilors Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelkorn, Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones have consistently voted in favor of SOS, with Klarissa Peña, Louie Sanchez, Renee Grout, Lewis and Bassan consistently voting against them.

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The scheduled Dec. 19 City Council meeting has been canceled; the Council will reconvene on Jan. 4, 2023 at the Albuquerque Government Center and streamed at GOV TV.

Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at copychief@dailylobo.com ot on Twitter @DailyLobo

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