Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, center, stands with city and nonprofit leaders after the official closure of Coronado Park on Aug. 17, the day it was closed. About 100 people stayed at the unauthorized encampment. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)
In the latest chapter of a months-long saga, the Albuquerque City Council on Wednesday opted to allow the establishment of “safe outdoor spaces” within the state’s largest city, an effort to give unsheltered folks a safe place to stay overnight.
At the meeting, the Council failed to muster the six votes required to override a veto from Mayor Tim Keller on legislation that would have prohibited city-sanctioned encampments from being allowed in the zoning code. It also would have imposed a one-year ban on them being built.
The Council actually approved legislation allowing for “safe outdoor spaces” in June but reversed course soon after. After initially supporting them, Councilor Brook Bassan has said outcry from constituents prompted her to introduce a bill banning sanctioned encampments.
The Council voted 6-3 on Aug. 15 to prohibit “safe outdoor spaces” from being created in city limits, though Keller vetoed the legislation soon afterward. His office has said sanctioned encampments are one of many tools city officials would like to deal with an ongoing housing crisis here.
Sanctioned encampments are allowed after a local group or entity applies to the city’s Planning Department. Neighbors and others are then allowed to weigh in. And they can appeal if the city approves it.
According to the city’s website, there are two approved “safe outdoor spaces,” though neither has opened. One is on the 700 block of Candelaria Road NE, and the other is at the 1200 block of Menaul Road NE. There have been eight applications so far. Four are awaiting or under review, and two were denied, according to the city.
The approved space on Menaul would have capacity for up to 50 people. The approval has prompted at least seven appeals from those in the area, including a law firm, a hotel and a neighborhood association.
Before the moratorium bill passed, Keller floated the idea of making Coronado Park into a sanctioned encampment at some point. Coronado Park was home to as many as 125 people without shelter, but the encampment was not sanctioned by the city.
Citing safety risk to residents and city employees, the city recently closed the park to the public. At least 40 people were at the park at the time, many of whom are now finding shelter on city streets or elsewhere.
Before the park closed, city staff and a nonprofit organization surveyed 94 residents of the park about various topics, including whether they’d be happy to return to Coronado Park “if there are rules and security and limits on the number of belongings you have.”
Of respondents, 49 said they would be “very willing.”
In a statement about the council vote, Keller’s office said sanctioned encampments are one of many tools the administration will use to tackle homelessness.
“Albuquerque, as with nearly all major cities and towns across the United States, needs more tools, not less, to address the homelessness crisis while keeping our neighborhoods, parks and businesses safe,” spokesperson Ava Montoya said.
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