By Tammy Fiebelkorn, City Council District 7 & Brook Basson, City Council District 4
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We agree something must be done. Albuquerque, like many other cities, is seeing a record number of people experiencing homelessness. Unsheltered people are everywhere in town. There are encampments in city parks, alleys, sidewalks, and underpasses. If we decamp folks from one spot, they end up at another spot, which is equally troubling. The cycle continues and repeats, obtaining no productive result for anyone. It’s a terrible situation for unsheltered people, a waste of resources for the city, and a continual source of frustration for people living and working here.
Because there are numerous reasons people are unhoused, we need numerous workable solutions. This is not a “one size fits all” situation. Trauma, financial challenges, mental health illness, addiction, medical issues, unsupportive families, and lack of job training are just some reasons for homelessness in our community. Seniors, adults, youth, and children are experiencing homelessness. It stands to reason we need multiple, targeted solutions for different experiences.
Do we have a single solution that will solve all the issues the unsheltered are experiencing right now? No, but we have several new options we think are worth trying. They are all part of the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) update going to the full Council next week, and we want them all to pass.
Motel conversions for affordable housing: The City’s Family & Community Services Department would like to renovate motels to develop low-income affordable housing options. The existing layout of these motels makes it cost-prohibitive to renovate them into living units with full-sized kitchens. This IDO amendment will provide an exemption for affordable housing projects funded by the city, allowing kitchens to be small, without full-sized ovens and refrigerators. It will require city social services to regularly assist residents. Folks who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness will be offered a safe and secure home in which to live.
Safe Outdoor Spaces: The process of entering programs to get back into permanent housing can be long and frustrating. Housing waitlists are only growing longer. Safe Outdoor Spaces will give those willing to stay outdoors a place to pitch their tent, access to services, the dignity of a bathroom, handwashing stations and a security plan. These areas will be away from residential homes, city parks, and open spaces while providing a safer place for those with nowhere else to go.
Living Lots: Some unhoused individuals will choose to remain in their tents for a variety of reasons. Living Lots are designated camping spaces offering basic bathrooms and handwashing options. They are not a long-term solution. They provide a short-term place to stay while other long-term solutions are created. This is a way to remove unhoused people from living in neighborhoods, parks, and in front of businesses by giving them approved options for the location of their encampments.
We want to be clear: we want everyone to have a safe home, full-size kitchens, social services, and dignity. These solutions are stop-gap measures to stem the tide of homelessness. They are not the ideal solution that fixes everything for everyone. They may or may not work perfectly. If we need to make changes or cancel these altogether in the future, we will. The current situation is not working for anyone, so let’s try something new.