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Santa Fe approves plan for safe outdoor space

The Interfaith Community Shelter, better known as Pete's Place, on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe
Alice Fordham
The Interfaith Community Shelter, better known as Pete's Place, on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. A safe outdoor space would be designed to create more options for people who find it hard to stay in group shelters.

In Santa Fe, the city council voted Wednesday to approve a plan to research and create a safe outdoor space for people experiencing homelessness.

The resolution approved by the council tasks the Santa Fe city manager with finding a suitable place for a safe outdoor space, which would house people in structures much like small cabins, with group facilities like bathrooms.

It also calls for contracting with a provider who can help residents with things like social services, and getting into permanent housing, and working to reach agreements with nearby residents to get their support for the project and build structures for communication and complaints.

That last part might prove the most challenging. Last year, a proposal to use the former university known as Midtown Campus failed after residents expressed safety concerns.

Speaking at the meeting, Director of Community Health and Safety Kyra Ochoa said that in other places, residents had seen positive changes once safe spaces were created.

"We're encouraged by what we've seen in neighboring communities in Las Cruces where they have a longstanding safe outdoor space," she said. "Neighbors, businesses around the safe outdoor space report that they're very happy the site is there, that they see a reduction in loitering and vagrancy."

The resolution's text also says that research by the University of Denver’s Center for Housing and Homelessness evaluating crime associated with a similar space in Denver found that there was no increase in crime in the neighborhood and more than 85% of neighbors had either positive or neutral feelings about the impact.

Councilor Jamie Cassutt, one of the sponsors of the bill, recently told KUNM that since the pandemic began, homelessness has increased and that the city spends roughly $14 million a year addressing the issue. She said some people will not stay in group shelters because of lack of privacy, storage or a place for a pet.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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