A couple of Albuquerque City Councilors got their feathers ruffled while defending their stances on how to help or not to help the homeless at their meeting on Oct. 3.
What’s The Big Deal?
The dust-up revolves around the controversial idea of the city trying out contained, supervised areas called safe outdoor spaces. These are sites where those experiencing homelessness can either park their car or pitch a tent while being assessed for services to get them off the streets. The locations are temporary, enclosed and provide basic necessities such as access to food, bathrooms, electricity and onsite case management.
The veto on the Oct. 3 table was of a bill Councilor Dan Lewis sponsored to remove the $1.25 million funding the Councilors had already approved to try the idea of safe outdoor spaces. The bucks come from two different pots of money, one being $500,000 that voters approved for the idea and another council approved budget line item for $750,000. Lewis shifted it to only help homeless veterans through other services - thereby leaving the program to fail without funding.
Them's Fightin’ Words
Mayor Tim Keller said in a blunt veto statement that it was a “sad political attempt to use the unhoused veteran community as a pretext to create another barrier to addressing our unhoused challenges with every tool available."
This is what pissed off Councilor Lewis. He put on his holier-than-thou-hat and acted like a sitting Mayor is not allowed to have an opinion, or say what he thinks in a veto message. He then challenged the Mayor to “own it,” if and when the safe spaces eventually fail, which he said will happen. He rambled on about how we could rent apartments downtown, or anywhere, in Albuquerque for the homeless. His pal Councilor Louie Sanchez echoed the “own it” slogan. Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael was eloquent in his response - that is what the mayor thinks - yet Lewis kept up his mantra of the Mayor not being allowed to say such things and the Mayor not “owning it.”
Ugh. The Mayor has supported this idea solidly from the get-go and while he has not said the magic words “I own it,” his actions have said that he owns it.
Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn said some Councilors must not have been paying attention when the budget and the integrated development plan were being passed and when safe open spaces were approved. And are wasting time trying to undo what was already done. Mic drop.
Councilor Pat Davis said it should not be a political thing but it has become a political issue. He said the city has funded the Veteran’s programs fully as requested and there is a Veteran’s Ombud in the Mayor’s office. He said the council needs to move forward and try this idea, bring some new ideas to the table and get busy figuring out how to bring in more permanent housing. Good try at being a peacemaker. (Full disclosure: Councilor Davis is co-owner of The Paper.)
Councilor Klarissa Peña said she is opposed to the idea because she thinks all of the sites that she is aware of are in communities of color. Then she said she didn’t even know how many applications are pending or what has been approved. Not sure what she even means by all this, as the city has an informative, up-to-date website where one can keep tabs on this issue and where applications are being submitted. And most of those who are homeless here tend to be people of color.
Councilor Brook Bassan took great offense and got all ruffled up by several comments. Bassan, who is known to do her research, at first strongly supported the idea before making an about-flip and began to actively work to stop them. She did this after meeting with some of her constituents. During the meeting, she seemed a bit unglued and went off on a tangent saying her change in heart was not political. She said that it was after meeting with residents in her Far Northeast Heights district who were opposed to it that she changed her mind and began to work against the measure. That sounds like a “political” change of heart to this reporter. There was something about paying attention and it being a Councilor's prerogative to change their minds, but by this point, it was hard to follow the dramatic ramble. Finally, after Lewis had a few more words to say, Council President Isaac Benton called for the vote. Whew.
To override the veto, six votes were needed but the vote was 5 - 4 with Councilors Fiebelkorn, Davis, Benton and Trudy Jones getting blue ribbons for doing the correct thing to give this idea a working chance.
It’s getting cold on the streets. It is a proactive, humane action to try this sooner, rather than not at all.
Check It Out Here
The city maintains a website where folks can go to see what applications are being filed and in what part of town cabq.gov/planning/safe-outdoor-spaces
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