Shelter Shopping

As the city prepares to put its first safe outdoor space to the test, interest appears minimal for additional host sites

The City of Santa Fe might run into problems finding additional host sites and operators if its pilot Safe Outdoor Space site proves successful.

Last March, city officials approved a plan to purchase 25 pallet homes for safe sites with $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act; seek religious organizations to provide land to host unhoused people in small, livable buildings; and contract a nonprofit to offer support services and security. But a pilot project set to begin operations late next month will only use 10 of the structures.

Few potential partners applied to participate in the pilot launch: just one host site and two operators responded to the city’s search.

The City Council and mayor unanimously approved contracts Dec. 13 with Christ Lutheran Church and The Life Link for $828,368: $388,176 to the church to install the pallet homes in the parking lot; and $440,192 to The Life Link to provide case management services, among others.

The Interfaith Community Shelter, which runs the Pete’s Place shelter on Cerrillos Road in a city building, also applied to oversee operations. Executive Director Korina Lopez tells SFR she’s unsure why the city did not end up selecting the organization for the pilot, but the choice allows her to focus on a new program that will set up mobile support units for case management, food delivery and showers at several locations around the city.

“I think honestly initially I was like, ‘I wonder how we could have done that better,’ but at the same time, we’re rolling out a mobile services program. So it was one of those blessings in disguise,” Lopez says.

For now, she says Interfaith Community Shelter will watch how the pilot program plays out.

Other shelter leaders across Santa Fe tell SFR they probably won’t apply for future iterations.

St. Elizabeth Shelter Executive Director Edward Archuleta says the city approached the 37-year-old organization in the early stages of planning for the pallet home project. But after discussion, he and the board of directors did not consider it a good fit.

“We all agreed that that’s just not really our line of work. We have five permanent facilities around town already, two shelters and three apartment buildings, totaling 162 apartments, and we all agreed that we did not want to expand any more; at least for the time being, we needed to focus on those five properties,” Archuleta says. “To take on another project would have just been a little too much for us…[and] it’s not really our mission. Our mission is to get people into permanent housing, not temporary housing.”

The pilot comes as a coordinated outreach group comprised of city officials and nonprofit advocacy organizations released a new count of homeless people in Santa Fe: 374. City Manager John Blair calls the figure the “best estimate of the total number of people who are living in Santa Fe unsheltered.” Current overnight walk-in shelters have a capacity of about 148 beds, operators tell SFR.

As 15 city-owned pallet homes are slated to sit in storage for the time being, Mayor Alan Webber tells SFR he still expects additional hosts to step up, though he says the city will focus on the pilot site’s launch for now.

“My hope is that those interested parties will reemerge and we’ll be able to get these remaining pallets into use as housing previously homeless people,” Webber says. “So that door is far from shut.”

Previously, former Community Health and Safety Department Director Kyra Ochoa proposed using the Midtown Campus as a sanctioned camping site after the city evaluated more than 100 city-owned areas, but neighborhood residents said it would have been too close to public spaces and posed danger to children. Ochoa began a new job as one of three deputy secretaries with the state Human Services Department this month.

Webber says that proposal isn’t on the table again.

“I think, from what I know about this kind of housing option, it works best with a third-party partner or two, rather than having it be a city owned and operated facility,” Webber says.

Bernalillo County opened its Tiny Home Village in February 2021 under a similar model consisting of 30 tiny homes for people who face challenges with congregate shelter situations. Michele Williams, shelter manager at Consuelo’s Place on the Midtown campus, worked at the Bernalillo County site before taking on her current role. Williams tells SFR the models all aid in the ultimate goal of long-term housing.

“If you don’t have people living on the street as you’re trying to get them an ID and a job and housing assistance or whatever it is, it’s much easier to provide services and track people down if they’re not moving and are in one location,” Williams says. “It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basically, you’re suiting that [housing] need first as you start going into intensive case management, so that’s why that model is so effective in that way.”

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