Parking Lot Pallets

Residents and project partners peek at the new Safe Outdoor Spaces program site

Residents and city officials gathered in the parking lot of Christ Lutheran Church amidst snowfall Monday morning to see the site of a one-year pop-up shelter pilot project coined the Safe Outdoor Spaces program that will begin operations in early April.

Paris Rubio, the SOS site coordinator for The Life Link, tells SFR eight individuals and two couples, with ages ranging from 22 to 70, will move in on a staggered basis tentatively starting April 1. Five dogs will also join the group. The Life Link will provide housing tools and case management while working alongside several partners. Local laundry services are included, and someone will drop off and pick up clothes. Southwest Care will provide harm reduction services.

“We’re almost there. I’m just really excited for the clients to move in and build a sense of community,” Rubio says. “That is what we’re about, and we want them to feel as comfortable as possible and try to be as helpful as we can be.”

The city approved a plan in March 2023 to purchase 25 pallet homes for the program, using up to $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. The pallet shelters can house up to two people at a time, along with their pets, and also include electricity, heating and cooling.

Last December, the City Council and mayor unanimously approved contracts with Christ Lutheran Church and The Life Link for a grand total of $828,368—$388,176 and $440,192 respectively—to create and operate the site that provides transitional housing to those experiencing homelessness in 10 small stand-alone structures. Maintenance, utilities, litter control and at least one meeting per week with a hired SOS operator fall under the church’s purview, while The Life Link’s contract requires it to handle day-to-day operations of the space, including the intake process, staffing and security.

Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Joene Herr tells SFR the congregation is ready to embark on the new journey in their backyard.

“Everyone is excited. We are thrilled. We’re a small worshiping congregation. We’re older, and we’re able to do something that will have a positive impact in this community,” she says. “People who are homebound when I visit them, I show them pictures. We’ve had people who are homebound get car rides so they can come by and see the construction has been happening.”

The plan has had a few bumps. City officials had initially aimed to launch the pilot at the end of last year, and the grand opening falls roughly four months behind a tentative schedule included in a presentation the Community Health and Safety Department gave to the City Council and the mayor this fall. Some work remains, such as remodeling the shower to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Despite the road left ahead, participants viewing the site expressed a sense of accomplishment as the plan nears completion.

“It takes a community working together to really solve the challenge of homelessness, and that is our aim: to have zero homelessness in Santa Fe. It’s been done elsewhere, and we’re going to do it here,” Mayor Alan Webber said. “There have been hiccups, speed bumps, delays, obstacles, [but] none of them stopped this from happening. None of them will ever stop this from happening, and we will keep working to make sure the people who are homeless in Santa Fe are housed, safe, secure, with respect, dignity, and with services.”

With 15 remaining pallet homes, Youth and Family Services Division Director Julie Sanchez tells SFR she hopes this kind of project can be duplicated across the city “because it’s definitely one step in the right direction of getting people housed how they want to be housed.”

“It feels so good. I feel so emotional about it,” Sanchez says. “We really couldn’t have done this without our internal team, city leadership, with our partners…The amount of people involved is incredible, but seeing it come to fruition and having everything set up warms me.”

First, the city needs to find additional host sites and partner providers. The church was the only bidder to be a host site during the first Request for Proposal process. Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Herr says she hopes more people will step up to help.

“We are hoping to be a catalyst. We’re hoping that people will say, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s just a small church with a handful of old members and look what they did,’” Herr says. “We’re already looking at, ‘OK, this is long term.’ It’s a one-year pilot, but I tell people, this is going to be here as long as there’s a need.”

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