Local leaders view shelter units

Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley talks with Pallet sales representative Ben Simons about the Pallet shelters they had on display last week. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s 64 square feet with two beds, a few shelves, windows, heating and cooling capabilities, and it costs about $8,500, including shipping.

The aluminum-framed, composite-panel structure that rolled into Albuquerque last week may not qualify as luxury accommodations, but the manufacturer says it is often well-received by its users: people who might otherwise be sleeping on sidewalks or in alleys.

“Some people look and say, ‘No, that’s not for me,’ ” said Ben Simons, a sales representative and community development partner for Pallet, which makes the shelters. “But a very, very high percentage of people (who are offered) this shelter will say yes. You have a locking door; you have a mattress; you have climate control; you have your privacy.”

Simons brought a couple of demonstration units – including a larger model that can accommodate up to four people, along with a separate restroom unit – through Albuquerque to show local leaders who are weighing additional ways to curb homelessness.

That includes Albuquerque City Councilor Diane Gibson and Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who have each expressed interest in the idea of sanctioned encampments or “safe outdoor spaces” – organized camps that provide people who are homeless a place to sleep, access to bathrooms and, ideally, a path to future housing stability. Similar communities already exist across the U.S., including in Las Cruces.

While some use tents, O’Malley has been interested in the potential use of Pallet’s shelters and helped coordinate the company’s recent stop in Albuquerque.

On a hot weekday afternoon last week, she and other elected officials and government leaders explored the Pallet facilities and asked questions.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O\’Malley sits inside a 64-square-foot Pallet shelter that costs about $8,500. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“This is a model that’s really innovative,” O’Malley said. “They can be mas-produced (and) cleaned very easily, don’t have to be on a foundation, have the heating and cooling inside, and it’s already being used in places all over the country.”

Although no safe outdoor space has been approved in Albuquerque, leaders continue to consider the possibility. The bond package the city is sending to voters in November includes $500,000 for encampments.

Meanwhile, O’Malley, County Manager Julie Morgas Baca and other county officials are traveling to Denver this summer to study how similar camps are operating there.

POT CONSULTANT: As the Albuquerque City Council weighs various cannabis-related land-use regulations – like where and when legal marijuana shops can operate when New Mexico’s legalization law takes effect – one city councilor is fielding questions about his own role in the industry.

Councilor Pat Davis is a partner in a cannabis consulting business P2M, which encourages potential clients to “contact us for your custom-written licensing application, operating plans, facility designs, vendor referrals and more,” according to its website.

Davis said the firm has about three dozen clients throughout the state in various stages of the licensing process and focuses on what happens inside a company’s “four walls,” regardless of where it is located.

The state of New Mexico will oversee recreational cannabis business licensing and create industry regulations, but local governments can establish rules regarding the density of cannabis businesses and their hours of operation. Albuquerque is considering several cannabis-related policies as part of its annual Integrated Development Ordinance update. Davis is sponsoring a series of them – at least one that directly competes with rules proposed by Mayor Tim Keller’s administration. Keller is pitching a distance of at least 1,000 feet between cannabis shops, while Davis is proposing 600 feet.

The council could vote on the IDO update as early as Thursday.

Davis contends he does not stand to personally benefit from the decisions he’s making as a city councilor, because his company will not deal with zoning or real estate matters, instead referring clients to outside attorneys for those issues.

“It doesn’t matter to us whether your business is located in Albuquerque or Taos,” he said. “We’re simply dealing with your paperwork.”

But he added, “On the off chance that one of my clients were to pursue some type of zoning change in the city, I would recuse myself (from any related votes) out of an abundance of caution.”

Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com

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