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The city has given a green light to the first safe outdoor space in Albuquerque.
Dawn Legacy Pointe’s application for a camp on Menaul near Interstate 25 has earned Planning Department approval, according to the city’s website.
Kylea Good, who chairs the Dawn Legacy Pointe board, said Wednesday that the approval represents years of behind-the-scenes work on a project she says is greatly needed.
“It’s this moment you feel is just life-changing for so many people,” she said.
A consultant for the project said the site could be ready for tenants in the next 30 to 45 days.
Meanwhile, three applications for other safe outdoor spaces are currently awaiting review, according to the city’s website, and the City Council – which in June approved safe outdoor spaces – is nearing a vote on legislation intended to outlaw them.
Safe outdoor spaces are organized, managed camps where people who are homeless can sleep overnight in tents or vehicles. Because of the City Council’s June vote, they are currently allowed under Albuquerque’s zoning code, though there are restrictions. They have a maximum occupancy of 50 people and are limited to two years, with the option of a single two-year extension. Operators have to provide toilets, showers and handwashing stations, and must also submit for the city’s review a copy of their management plan or security agreement that indicates the site has 24/7 support.
Dawn Legacy Pointe, a new organization that will help sex-trafficking victims and other vulnerable populations, was the first organization to apply to run a safe outdoor space once they became legal just a few weeks ago.
Brad Day, a local businessman assisting Dawn Legacy Pointe, said the public, private and nonprofit sectors have collaborated on the project. The nonprofit Street Safe New Mexico is financially overseeing Dawn Legacy Pointe while the new organization gets set up. Day said several businesses also have assisted with the project in some way, including Scott’s Fencing, Cabela’s, Rick Bennett Architectural, Consensus Planning and John and Gavino Lopez Carpentry. Both the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are making some financial contributions, too, he said.
A spokeswoman confirmed the city intended to assist safe outdoor space operators, but had not finalized specific amounts.
“We are working with all our Safe Outdoor Space applicants to ensure that they have the resources to comply with the operations plans for each (approved) space,” Family and Community Services Department spokeswoman Katie Simon said in an email.
The city has money available for such projects. The current budget includes $950,000 for safe outdoor spaces/encampments, and voters approved $500,000 for encampments as part of last fall’s $140 million bond package.
‘Could be a gamechanger’
Other organizations are also looking to start safe outdoor spaces.
The nonprofit Heading Home applied to run two – specifically for people in cars, not tents – in parking lots outside the shelters it already operates at 715 Candelaria NE and 7440 Jim McDowell NW. The city has already denied the West Side location, but the Candelaria site, which would offer 12 parking spots, is awaiting review.
Heading Home CEO Steve Decker said he is not a fan of safe outdoor spaces, but it’s a stopgap he’s willing to try since he believes they would accommodate a segment of the homeless population otherwise unwilling to sleep in shelters.
“Having a safe place in town where they could stay in their vehicle could be a gamechanger for some of them,” he said.
Pastor Dennis Hubbard of Bethlehem Baptist Church has applied to have safe outdoor spaces at both of the church’s locations: 5915 Bluewater NW and 512 Wheeler SE.
He said he’s pursuing the sites in partnership with the city, as Family and Community Services officials presented him with the idea and will provide resources to help create it.
He said the church could offer its parking lots for people to sleep in their vehicles.
“They sleep in their cars already; I’m just going to provide a safe place for them to park,” he said, adding that the ultimate goal is to link them to resources to get into more stable housing.
The debate over safe outdoor spaces – a concept employed in many other communities, including Las Cruces – has divided the Albuquerque City Council. Supporters successfully added safe outdoor spaces as a legal land use while amending the Integrated Development Ordinance earlier this year, but the IDO update passed on a slim 5-4 margin and one of the initial supporters has since changed her mind.
Councilor Brook Bassan – who had voted “yes” and previously voiced support for safe outdoor spaces – reversed course. Just weeks after helping get them passed, Bassan introduced legislation to repeal them.
She wants to bar the city from accepting or approving applications for safe outdoor spaces for a year unless it officially removes them from the zoning code sooner than that. The council is expected to vote on her moratorium bill Monday.
But even if council passes the moratorium, safe outdoor spaces could still be possible.
Any safe outdoor space application the city approves now could move forward because the land use locks in at the time of a completed application.
In addition, Mayor Tim Keller could veto the moratorium. While he is not committing to any action yet, his spokeswoman said Wednesday “we need to use every tool in our toolbox to address homelessness.”