Editorial: Indecision helped lead to division on safe outdoor spaces - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Indecision helped lead to division on safe outdoor spaces

After the Albuquerque City Council failed to override a mayoral veto last week, Safe Outdoor Spaces run by private groups will continue to be a tool in the toolbox to address the homeless crisis.

But the way the issue is tracking — with the City Council reversing itself after initially supporting the concept and the potential for drawn-out appeals — there’s no certainty any Safe Outdoor Space will get lasting approval and be up and running in the near future.

The very first approval was quickly contested, and that appeal is working through the process.

Safe Outdoor Spaces are organized, size-limited campsites where people who are homeless can sleep in tents or cars while accessing such basic amenities as toilets and showers. And there are rules that should allay some fears these sites would become the same kind of free-for-all that condemned Coronado Park.

Participants must register, according to the city’s “guiding document,” to be able to live in such spaces. Those with sex offenses won’t be allowed. Residents cannot have weapons or consume alcohol or drugs on site. Those with open warrants will be turned over to police.

Six-foot fencing with screening (like a tennis court) will surround each Safe Outdoor Space. Gates will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., then locked for the night.

Once an individual is placed in a Safe Outdoor Space, rules developed by the Family and Community Services Department will apply. Residents will have service requirements of six hours per week. Residents will be expected to meet once a week to discuss and solve problems that arise.

The concept has become a lightning rod. Public comments were divided between support and opposition before the council voted.

Despite failing to override the mayor’s veto of a moratorium on Safe Outdoor Spaces, the council took $750,000 earmarked for a pilot program and redirected it to homeless veterans — though Mayor Tim Keller is certain to veto that action. Now he seems to have the majority to preserve that funding.

But with appeals almost certain for any approved Safe Outdoor Space, it may be some time before we see one actually operating. So far, two have been approved and six others are in the pipeline, either under or awaiting review.

Unfortunately the issue has sucked all the oxygen out of the room, with misinformation often leading to unproductive debate inside Council chambers and out.

In hindsight, allowing one or two pilot sites rather than a more open number would have given the public evidence on which to base their support or criticism.

Now it’s hurry up and wait to find out if Safe Outdoor Spaces ever gets out of the toolbox or becomes just a dysfunctional distraction blocking more viable solutions.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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