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Santa Fe considers controlled encampment for unhoused people

Remnants of a camp near a bridge in midtown Santa Fe
Kaveh Mowahed
Remnants of a camp near a bridge in midtown Santa Fe

Stakeholders, residents, and policy makers in New Mexico are grappling with whether to create a system of controlled encampments for unhoused people. Wednesday night the Santa Fe City Council heard a similar proposal.

Santa Fe’s Midtown Campus, formerly the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, could become the city’s first sanctioned campsite for unhoused people, but many nearby residents and business owners oppose the idea.

Forest Thomas owns the St. Michaels Village West shopping center adjacent to the campus. He told the city council that he doesn’t see homelessness as a crime, but he worries about the potential impact of the camp on the surrounding community.

“I think that it’s very unrealistic to expect that the city police can even begin to deal with the amount of problems that spill out over into the neighborhood,” Thomas said. 

Kyra Ochoa, the city’s Director of Community Health and Safety said her team considered many sites around the city. There was also a plan to have four separate camps in different locations around the city.

The Midtown Campus has been home to an emergency shelter called Consuelo’s Place for unhoused people during the COVID-19 pandemic and has a waiting list of more than 150 names. Other shelters around the city are regularly at capacity.

Ochoa said the oversight staff already in place helped push Consuelo’s to the top of the list of locations that could include wrap-around social services.

In Albuquerque a new law went into effect Tuesday that allows the city to authorize public encampments, but it’s expected to be repealed by city council within months after complaints from residents.

Las Cruces has had a controlled encampment since 2011, and more states around the West have adopted this model as well.

This report is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

Kaveh Mowahed is a reporter with KUNM who follows government, public health and housing. Send story ideas to kaveh@kunm.org.
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