Albuquerque District 4 City Councilor Brook Bassan answered questions from constituents and explained the decision to reverse her support for safe outdoor spaces during a June 27 community meeting at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center. Bassan said some of her reasons for taking a new stance on the proposed safe spaces for the homeless are the high barriers for entry, the low number of people they will provide for, the inability of the police to enforce stricter vagrancy laws, and opposition from her constituents.
In hindsight, Bassan said she should have discontinued her support for safe outdoor spaces after the proposal to set up low-cost living lots was rejected by the city council. “I didn’t do that,” Bassan said. “Because of that, because of the idea that we’re not going to be able to enforce laws, because there will still be barriers, safe outdoor spaces will still only help maybe 40 people per safe outdoor space, if they were to start.
“So when we’re talking about 40 here and maybe 40 at one or two locations, with everyone I’m hearing from viscerally opposed to it with the exception of a couple handfuls of people, we need to listen to them,” Bassan said.
The following are some of the talking points from Monday’s meeting:
• About 1,500-2,000 homeless are currently living in Albuquerque. “That’s not including youth or the people that we don’t know about,” Bassan said.
• Bassan will introduce legislation at an Aug. 1 city council meeting to place a moratorium on safe outdoor spaces and to delete the term safe outdoor spaces from the Integrated Development Ordinance. The legislation will be considered on the third Monday in August. “This is where we will be voting and hearing and discussing the two pieces of legislation that I will be introducing,” Bassan said.
• Bassan thinks the legislation will receive enough votes to pass. “Feel free to reach out to all the councilors and make sure that they are voting in favor of these two upcoming bills as well because we will need five votes on the council to pass it, and I do think we have it, but it’s not going to hurt to keep pushing in that direction as well,” Bassan said.
• Only four out of 32 tiny homes are currently being occupied. “Tiny homes is run by the county. The city did put in funding for it. It has failed, and there were four residents out of 32 spaces available,” Bassan said. “The county is looking at working on figuring out a new direction for their barriers and their parameters.” She said one of the barriers is tiny home residents are required to be sober for 30 days before becoming a resident. “And I don’t believe the majority of people that might need help are going to be sober for 30 days,” Bassan added. “Maybe a few days, but 30 – that was one of the big barriers that I think has contributed, and I think they’re thinking has contributed, to why this hasn’t been successful.”
• Seven different city departments go to Coronado Park every other Wednesday to clear out and clean up the park, where the homeless have been camping for years. “The city comes and cleans it up and then most people move back by the end of the night, if not the next day,” Bassan said. “That costs taxpayers every other week $27,000. It’s a game of whack a mole, and I do not agree with that.” Bassan added that she personally saw open drug use at the park that is not being addressed by the police.
• The Gateway Center for the homeless is not being used because of current litigation. “The neighborhoods around Gateway Center are in litigation appealing the operation of Gateway Center,” Bassan explained. “So, because of that appeal, everything for housing is on hold over there.”
• Accountability and open communication is a concern. Several attendees at Monday’s meeting were concerned that Bassan is not communicating her intentions and policy changes to constituents in a timely manner. Others suggested that many people are not being held accountable, including criminals among the homeless population, members of the police department, the federal monitor overseeing the DOJ’s consent decree and city council itself. Bassan agreed she has not listened closely enough to her constituents concerns and promised to be more attentive. “There’s a point at which I do want to hear from all of you. What’s some of your ideas maybe? Because since, since I didn’t you know, I didn’t listen to everyone and I didn’t communicate enough from what I’m hearing, I would really like to hear your ideas,” Bassan said.