The City of Santa Fe took two actions Tuesday to respond to an increasing number of places where unhoused people are camping out. Just hours before the mayor and city councilors held a community meeting on the topic, a press release announced the city will resume enforcement of its ban on camping in public spaces on Friday.
“Anyone camping on City property will be directed to available shelters, and camps will be cleared in the order in which they are reported, subject to staff and contractor capacity,” the press release reads.
This reverses a city policy deprioritizing clearing encampments during the pandemic—a practice the city adopted after an emergency proclamation by Mayor Alan Webber. That policy ended June 6, according to Department of Community Health and Safety Director Kyra Ochoa, leaving the city with a murky path forward.
Ochoa called the pre-pandemic policy “legally problematic” at the June 29 City Council meeting. Without providing unsheltered people a valid alternative to camping in public spaces, she said, the city is not justified in clearing those camps. However, a proposed alternative—establishing sanctioned camping at the Midtown Campus—hit a wall of “significant community pushback,” the press release notes, and the city is no longer pursuing that option.
The city cites “increased shelter capacity” as the reason it can now enforce cleanups of what it notes is “a proliferation of unsanctioned camping” in Santa Fe. The Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place will close the Women’s Summer Safe Haven on Sept. 2 and open the Seasonal Overnight Shelter to men and women, a transition that normally happens in mid-October. New city park rangers are also on the job to enforce the rules.
“It’s a first step,” Ochoa tells SFR, acknowledging that Pete’s Place (and a few openings at St. Elizabeth Shelter) may not be sufficient or meet the needs of everyone who needs shelter.
The option the city seems likely to pursue next is a regulated temporary living arrangement called a “Safe Outdoor Space,” which would consist of small uniform units with individual access privacy, security, staff, services, case management and hygiene options including bathrooms and laundry units.
Among questions city facilitators posed to attendees—roughly 200, including 20 facilitators— were those intended to gauge support for the idea and to seek suggestions about a suitable location or locations.
As of this month, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness’ Coordinated Entry System recorded 363 unhoused people in Santa Fe, including 49 families and 18 youths. But that doesn’t account for all of the unhoused people in town, according to Marisol Atkins, who gave a presentation about a coalition of supporters called the S3 Santa Fe Housing Initiative.
Over 80 encampments have been reported this summer, she said.
As Korina Lopez, executive director of the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place, listened to others at her table share their thoughts about the idea of a Safe Outdoor Space, she voiced her disappointment that the Midtown location was rejected.
Addressing the needs of unhoused people isn’t just a question of capacity, she says, it’s having a variety of options that fit everyone’s needs and preferences.
“A lot of people don’t want to come into Pete’s for whatever reason and they choose to camp outside or go to St. Elizabeth or Consuelo’s,” she says, pointing to differing policies on being under the influence while at the shelter, and congregate vs. more private options.
The Midtown campus made sense to Lopez:
“It’s centrally located, it’s really close to Life Link, the Alternative Response Unit is also on that campus, which is a huge one,” she tells SFR. Having Consuelo’s Place onsite would also have been an asset, she says, helping with security and connecting people to housing.
She also cites the relatively low visibility of such a space on the campus.
“I know a lot of people have issues with the idea of a tent city—which wasn’t what the plan was anyway—but if they didn’t wanna see it, it would’ve been a perfect option in my opinion.”
The City Council will consider a resolution partnering with Santa Fe County to develop strategies to address homelessness at its Aug. 31 meeting.