Keller goes to bat for safe outdoor spaces again - Albuquerque Journal

Keller goes to bat for safe outdoor spaces again

Mayor Tim Keller

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is once again trying to trump the City Council, this time in an effort to preserve funding for safe outdoor spaces.

In his eighth veto of 2022, Keller is targets legislation that would reallocate $1.25 million originally designated for safe outdoor spaces. The money comes from a voter-approved 2021 bond package and from the annual city budget the council passed in May.

Instead of safe outdoor spaces — sites where people who are homeless can sleep in tents or cars in a managed environment with rules, toilets and showers — the money would go toward the city’s Gateway Center shelter and services hub and toward supporting homeless or precariously housed veterans.

The council approved the bill, sponsored by Dan Lewis, earlier this month on a 5-4 vote.

Keller in his veto message called it a “sad political attempt to use the unhoused veteran community as a pretext to create another barrier to addressing our unhoused challenges with every tool available” and said that the city already provides multiple resources for unhoused veterans. He wrote that diverting money from safe outdoor spaces would “undermine” the city’s ability to ensure the sites are safe and have proper staff and services “which are essential for successful operations and for successfully transitioning residents — including veterans — into longer-term housing.”

The veto will be on the council’s Oct. 3 agenda for a potential override vote.

Lewis did not immediately respond to a Journal message Friday afternoon.

Elected officials have wrangled for months on this subject, and this is Keller’s second safe outdoor space-related veto. He succeeded on the first one, squashing a safe outdoor space moratorium the council passed in August. The council lacked the six votes needed to override that veto, with Councilor Trudy Jones — who’d voted with the majority when the moratorium initially passed 6-3 — ultimately changing her position.

Safe outdoor spaces remain legal in Albuquerque, and the city Planning Department continues to process applications.

It has so far issued three approvals, though it remains to be seen when any may actually open.

The first to get approval — a 40-tent operation that the organization Dawn Legacy Pointe aims to operate on city-owned land near Menaul and Interstate 25 — is under appeal. The city’s land use hearing officer will on Wednesday hear seven appeals from neighbors and surrounding businesses. The hearing officer makes recommendations to the City Council about whether to accept or reject appeals.

Project consultant Brad Day said Dawn Legacy Pointe has continued to amass the supplies it needs, like tents, and is ready to start moving onto the site if it ultimately gets the green light.

“We have been busy lining everything up,” he said Friday.

Elsewhere, the nonprofit homeless services organization Heading Home has earned city approval for safe outdoor spaces outside the traditional shelters it already operates — the city’s West Side Emergency Housing Center at 7440 Jim McDowell NW and the Albuquerque Opportunity Center at 715 Candelaria NE. They would be for individuals to sleep in vehicles, not tents. There are 12 planned spaces on Candelaria and 40 at the WEHC.

Heading Home CEO Steve Decker said the organization has sought city support to build fencing around the property and to help pay for staffing to operate the spaces. He said both will need city money to get started.

Even if the organization gets city funding, it would still take around a month more to build the necessary fence on Candelaria before any camping would be possible, he said, though potential clients have begun asking questions.

“We are getting phone calls with people asking when it will open — they want to get out of the Walmart parking lot,” Decker said, adding that for now staff instead encourages them to consider openings inside the organization’s shelters.

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