City sees first demand 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 victims of sex trafficking 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 the homeless — new Dawn Legacy Pointe submitted the first.

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

Safe Outdoor Spaces are managed sites where homeless people can camp in tents or cars. They have bathrooms, showers and storage space.

The idea of ​​approved encampments has sparked months of community debate. While the city council could ban safe outdoor spaces in just weeks, they are currently allowed in the zoning code. Even if the city eventually repeals them, an organization could cement its ability to run a safe outdoor space for years by submitting a full application while they’re legal.

The city has yet to approve one.

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

Dawn Legacy Pointe is still in its infancy; Board Chair Kylea Good said last week she submitted her training documents to the New Mexico Secretary of State and will eventually file for 501c3 status with the IRS. Until then, Good said, local nonprofit Street Safe New Mexico is overseeing his finances.

Brad Day, a local businessman who has tirelessly advocated for safe outdoor spaces, advises Dawn Legacy Pointe and helps establish the site.

“We’ve done all the paperwork, and now what we’re going to do is basically work on the logistics to get everything we need – the tents, the sleeping bags, the air mattresses, get the fence built” , Day said on Monday. .

Good said it would cost between $120,000 and $180,000 to operate in the first year.

Although the budget for the project is not final, the city of Albuquerque plans to help cover operating costs, according to Director of Family and Community Services Carol Pierce.

Good said it would likely be easy to find people — most likely women, but that won’t rule out men — willing to stay at the camp.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we did the maximum. The truth is, it’s not like we’re looking at just one area – there’s a lot of traffic and exploitation going on around this area of ​​Menaul, but you have a whole city that take care of it,” she said.

If all goes according to plan, Good said she hopes to have it running by October when the weather starts to cool.

She said the people the site would most likely take in are now spending their nights trying to hang out with people who buy sex from them or simply live on the streets.

“They might huddle against a building or find someone’s property just to be and hide 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 because they are more cost-effective to run and quicker to get started than other options.

In June, the city council voted to make safe outdoor spaces a legal land use in Albuquerque, but it was a close 5-4 vote, and one of the supporters has since backed down. Councilor Brook Bassan, who initially advocated for safe outdoor spaces, introduced a pair of bills to overturn them.

Safe outdoor spaces would be removed from the city’s zoning code. As this is a lengthy process, Bassan has introduced an interim measure that would prevent the city from accepting or approving any requests for safe outdoor space until next August, unless the city updates. its zoning code earlier.

Bassan, at Monday’s Council meeting, managed to secure an expedited vote on his moratorium bill. With support from Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez, Bassan was able to pull the bill out of the Council’s standard committee process and schedule it for a vote on August 15.

As it stands, safe outdoor spaces are permitted in some non-residential and mixed-use areas. They must be at least 330 feet from areas of low-density residential development, although this restriction does not apply to campsites operated by religious institutions.

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

They are authorized for a maximum of two years, with the possibility of a two-year extension.