“Awwww, man…am I gonna have to move again?”
Those are the first words Christopher says as he drinks a beer in his ramshackle tent, after being told by SFR of the Northwest Quadrant development plans. The approximately 750-home subdivision is going to land on top of Christopher’s encampment, assuming he stays in the juniper-lined arroyo where he lives. The bulldozers are not revving up any time soon, but when the master plan is presented to Santa Fe city councilors at the end of the month, Christopher and the homeless community living in tents and under trees here will be a step closer to eviction.
Christopher, who declined to give his last name, lives in one of the handful of known camps in the Northwest Quadrant, an area that stretches between St. Francis Drive, Highway 599 and Camino de las Crucitas, with another segment south of Crucitas that includes the Frank S Ortiz dog park. The development plan is ambitious, calling for strict green building standards, ample natural landscaping and lots of affordable housing. For Christopher, however, it won’t be affordable enough.
He has been living in this camp for three months, near two other tents and 200 yards away from another cluster of temporary homes, one of which is underground in a mud-walled room that resembles a root cellar. A lanky 40-year-old Chicago native with blonde hair and a long beard, Christopher has a faded Black Sabbath tattoo on his right arm and an Ozzy Osbourne tattoo on his left knee. Sitting cross-legged and wearing only boxer shorts, he says he has seen combat in both Gulf Wars, which has contributed to his unstable mental condition and his hardcore drinking; he has two gallons of vodka in his tent and his dog’s name is Boozer.
The two have seen crews walking the property. Archaeologists have been in the area and, in general, Christopher has noticed an increase in foot traffic throughout his nook of the high desert. He worries about where he will end up next.
Northwest Quadrant officials, however, are not taking into account the homeless people living on the site of the future development, according to Project Manager Claudia Meyer Horn. It’s not that they are insensitive to the issue, she says, it just is not very significant.
“It’s not like there are shantytowns in the Northwest Quadrant,” Meyer Horn says, noting that she knows of only a few camps in the hills where houses are planned. “We feel like we’re doing our part by making this project 70 percent affordable,” she says.
Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, says if the Northwest Quadrant plan places emphasis on affordability, then the project should include consideration for those already living there.
“Certainly some of [the homes] could be supportive housing for those who are homeless,” Hughes says.
He notes that now is a tougher time than normal for Santa Fe’s homeless because the Santa Fe Southern Railyard, a long-standing place for the city’s homeless to sleep, is undergoing renovations.
“It’s been hard on some of them because those are their traditional camps,” Hughes continues. “They got pushed out into the surrounding neighborhoods, which caused some problems for neighbors.”
Kathy McCormick, director of the Housing and Community Development Department for the city, says the city is working with Youth Shelters and Family Services to open a new transitional housing facility for kids without homes. She says many of the Northwest Quadrant’s homeless are teens.
Hughes concurs, and also notes that someday Santa Fe’s open space will run out, and the city will have to decide whether it should designate a safe camping spot for the estimated 1,500 homeless people here.
If that were to happen, one man and his dog would likely end up there after getting booted from the Northwest Quadrant.
Whatever happens, he wants to stay in New Mexico. Christopher says hoarsely, “I have to be honest with you, man, I wish I could put thank-you signs everywhere. In New Mexico, people have been so fine to me. People here are cool as ice, man.”