Pete’s Place will Remain

City Council addresses rising homelessness, takes another chance to discuss obelisk

The Interfaith Community Shelter will get another four years at its current location at Pete's Place, but its presence on Cerrillos Road and the people it attracts to the surrounding neighborhood is still a significant source of tension.

The Santa Fe City Council voted unanimously to renew a four year lease for the shelter during its Wednesday meeting after more than two hours of debate.

While councilors all professed their support for the shelter and agreed on the necessity of the services it provides for the city, they disagreed on the details.

A couple of amendments to the lease dominated the lengthy debate, ultimately raising questions about what kinds of investments the city should be making to address homelessness, cost of living, mental health services and the role police should play in the community.

Councilor Renee Villarreal, who represents the district in which Pete's Place is located, introduced two amendments to the lease. The first, which added the requirement for the shelter to host two annual meetings with neighboring businesses and residents, passed after Councilor Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez altered it to make the city equally responsible for the meetings.

Villarreal's second amendment, which would have changed the lease to two years with the opportunity to renew it on a yearly basis for two more, took up the bulk of the discussion and ultimately drew a tied vote in Councilor Signe Lindell's absence.

Councilors Chris Rivera and Villarreal argued a shorter lease would allow the city to check in with the shelter and make sure all the terms were being met and that the building was up to code, in addition to providing flexibility for the city.

"This allows us hopefully to find another place that's better for a homeless shelter," said Rivera, arguing that a bigger building with space for families and for women to be separate from men would better meet the needs of the homeless population.

"It shows a little bit where our values are when our animal shelter is much bigger and nicer than our homeless shelter," Rivera said.

However, when Councilor Roman Abeyta asked shelter director Joe Jordan-Berenis about the proposed change, Jordan-Berenis said a shorter lease would hurt the shelter.

"We cannot operate—we cannot hire staff, we cannot raise money on a two-year lease," Jordan-Berenis said.

Cassutt-Sanchez said the shelter is "a necessary and imperfect response to a system that is broken."

She said instead of investing in a new building, she would like to see the city reduce its reliance on the shelter by addressing underlying issues of poverty, mental health and addiction. She also argued that the shelter's centralized location along transportation routes and close to services is essential.

Community Services Director Kyra Ochoa said the city's real investment should be in affordable housing to prevent residents from ending up on the streets.

These themes continued throughout the night as the council voted to approve a contract with the national organization, Family Independence Initiative, to distribute $1.6 million in CARES act funding for direct economic assistance to residents negatively impacted by COVID-19.

The majority of this money, Ochoa said, will go towards rental payments for people whose only protection from homelessness is the current eviction moratorium—and families who were not eligible for unemployment benefits or for the federal stimulus check.

Councilors also approved a contract with the Salvation Army to create an additional cold weather shelter. According to city documents, all existing shelters including the emergency shelter set up at the Midtown Campus in the spring are at capacity.

In other news

Despite the outpouring of emotion around the removal of the obelisk by a group of protesters in the Santa Fe Plaza on Monday, only six people signed up to speak about the incident at Wednesday's meeting.

Most of them berated Mayor Alan Webber for failing to take action to address the cultural conflicts around statues and historical monuments across the city.

"You have waited until the eleventh hour to address many, many issues. This has resulted in a very unfortunate situation with mob mentality" Lydia Clark said, directly addressing Webber.

For their part, councilors all affirmed the urgency for creating a committee to discuss cultural differences. Villarreal also had questions for the protesters.

"Is it just a chance for them to say they were involved, or are they actually invested in this community? What have they done to support the youth? What have they done to support affordable housing and the complications in the gentrification—that's another form of colonization," she said. "I just have a hard time with people who are not invested in the community who just show up and then disappear and then they have the privilege of going home and not dealing with the consequences."

Abeyta voiced his support for the police response when officers stood back from the protesters as they toppled the obelisk.

"Yes we lost an obelisk that meant a lot to people, I get that, but we didn't lose a life and that's really important," said Abeyta. "As far as the people that are tearing these down… you're diminishing your message."

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