City sees 1st application for 'safe outdoor space' - Albuquerque Journal

City sees 1st application for ‘safe outdoor space’

A vacant building at 1250 Menaul NE in Albuquerque. The property is a proposed site for a safe space for the homeless population. (Liam DeBonis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

An organization focused on helping those who have been trafficked for sex and other vulnerable populations is looking to launch the first safe outdoor space in Albuquerque.

Just days after the city began accepting applications for safe outdoor spaces – organized campsites for people who are homeless – the newly formed Dawn Legacy Pointe has submitted the first one.

Dawn Legacy Pointe aims to create a safe outdoor space at 1250 Menaul NE, a parcel just west of Interstate 25. It proposes accommodating up to 50 residents, the maximum number allowed under current law.

Safe outdoor spaces are managed sites where people who are homeless can camp in tents or cars. They have bathrooms, showers and storage spaces.

The idea of approved encampments has sparked months of community debate. While the City Council could outlaw safe outdoor spaces in just a few weeks, they currently are allowed in the zoning code. Even if the city ultimately repeals them, an organization could cement its ability to run a safe outdoor space for years by submitting a complete application while they are legal.

The city has not approved any yet.

Dawn Legacy Pointe is the only organization to submit an application so far, according to the city’s website, which characterizes the application as “awaiting review.”

Dawn Legacy Pointe is still in its infancy; board chairwoman Kylea Good said it just last week submitted its formation paperwork to the New Mexico Secretary of State and it would eventually seek 501c3 status from the IRS. Until then, Good said, the local nonprofit Street Safe New Mexico is overseeing its finances.

Brad Day, a local businessman who has relentlessly advocated for safe outdoor spaces, is advising Dawn Legacy Pointe and helping to get the site established.

“We did all the documents, and now what we’re going to do is basically work on the logistics of getting all the stuff we need – the tents, the sleeping bags, the air mattresses, get the fence built,” Day said Monday.

Good said it will cost an estimated $120,000 to $180,000 to operate in its first year.

Though the project’s budget is not final, the city of Albuquerque is planning to help cover the operating costs, according to Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce.

Good said it would likely be easy to find people – most likely women, though it will not exclude men – willing to stay at the camp.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we maxxed out. The truth of the matter is it’s not like we’re looking at just one area – there’s a lot of trafficking and exploitation that goes on around that area of Menaul, but you have a whole city that is dealing with it,” she said.

If everything goes as planned, Good said she hoped to have it running by October when the weather starts getting cold.

She said the people the site would accommodate most likely now spend their nights trying to stay over with people buying sexual services from them or are simply living on the streets.

“They might be huddling up against a building or finding somebody’s property just to be on and hide away from the public eye because that’s what’s going to keep them safe,” she said.

Day and Good say safe outdoor spaces are a necessary tool to help vulnerable populations since they are more cost-effective to run and faster to get started than other options.

The City Council in June voted to make safe outdoor spaces a legal land use in Albuquerque, but it was a narrow 5-4 vote, and one of the supporters since has backtracked. Councilor Brook Bassan, who initially advocated for safe outdoor spaces, has introduced a pair of bills to quash them.

One would remove safe outdoor spaces from the city’s zoning code. Since that’s a lengthy process, Bassan introduced a stopgap measure that would bar the city from accepting or approving any safe outdoor space applications until next August, unless the city updates its zoning code sooner.

Bassan during Monday’s Council meeting successfully pushed for an expedited vote on her moratorium bill. With support from Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez, Bassan was able pull the bill out of the Council’s standard committee process and schedule it for an Aug. 15 vote.

As it stands now, safe outdoor spaces are allowed in some non-residential and mixed-use zones. They must be at least 330 feet from zones with low-density residential development, though that restriction does not apply to campsites operated by religious institutions.

Each safe outdoor space can have up to 40 spaces for tents or vehicles and a maximum occupancy of 50 people. They must provide toilets, hand-washing stations and showers.

They are allowed for up to two years, with a possible two-year extension.

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