The city of Santa Fe continues to consider a proposal to construct a sanctioned homeless encampment within the largely vacant 64-acre midtown campus on St. Michael’s Drive.

The city of Santa Fe continues to consider a proposal to construct a sanctioned homeless encampment within the largely vacant 64-acre midtown campus on St. Michael’s Drive.
Many midtown business owners and managers are bracing for impact following another City Council discussion last week on a proposal to construct a sanctioned homeless encampment within the largely vacant former college campus on St. Michael’s Drive.
Several expressed an uneasiness with the plan, which they believe would bring an unmitigated public safety problem to surrounding businesses and schools.
Santa Fe Community College’s Higher Education Center is located on adjacent property, and the area lies near Santa Fe High School and Milagro Middle School.
“It just seems that a lot of the talk I see about the midtown area is that it is really valuable, and we really want to support it and grow it,” said Angela Mason, co-owner and manager of the Santa Fe Bite restaurant in the St. Michael’s Village West shopping center next to the campus. “But then they decide this is kind of like a blighted area, ‘Maybe we need to use it like this.’
“I just think communication was lacking,” she added.
Residents got their latest update on the proposal, which aims to reduce the costly problem of illegal campsites throughout Santa Fe, at a City Council meeting Wednesday. Community Health and Safety Director Kyra Ochoa said while she still recommends the city-owned midtown campus as the leading choice for a variety of reasons, including its ability to support a more robust nexus of wraparound services, no plan has been finalized.
“There is no perfect site; no one wants this,” Ochoa said at the meeting. “But for six months, my team in coordination with public works and public safety and every other department in the city has been researching about what … the least bad site would be. Let’s just put it that way.
Ochoa wrote in an email there is no timeline for when a location will be selected.
That was news to Mason’s landlord, Forest Thomas of Thomas Properties, who attended the Wednesday meeting to speak out against what he thought was a set-in-stone proposal.
He wasn’t aware the campus was the recommended location until he read about it in The New Mexican, he said.
He’s working to convene a meeting between business owners and both District 4 city councilors, Amanda Chavez and Jamie Cassutt, to air some of their concerns.
Thomas said the majority of business tenants he has spoken with have expressed concern about public safety if an encampment were developed nearby. He already spends around $35,000 a year on private security for the shopping center, he added.
“Some may be quite for it, some quite against it,” Thomas said. “I just think it is important to have that conversation.”
Cassutt voiced a desire Wednesday to weigh the benefits of the location with the concerns of nearby residents and business owners.
“It is true that we cannot keep doing what we are doing,” she said, referring to problems with unsanctioned camps. “… It is also true there have been impacts of neighborhoods, whether they are from the people who are in the shelters themselves or individuals who are drawn to the shelters. … How we mitigate those and how we are looking at those are important.”
Thomas said over the past six months, problems involving members of the homeless community around the St. Michael’s and Cerrillos Road intersection have increased “substantially.”
While he understands the plight of the city’s homeless population, he said, he’s more concerned about people who are potentially attracted to areas around homeless shelters, preying on the shelter’s residents and causing problems for nearby businesses.
“We have people that are camping within less than 100 feet of our businesses and climbing over the walls into our shopping center, sleeping and defecating, and it is not a good situation,” he said.
David Thianhlun, owner of the Santa Fe Asian Market in Santa Fe Village West, said he’s a “little concerned” due to an increase in shoplifting he’s noticed since opening four months ago.
“It has been a little tough with a situation like that, so I am really against doing the encampment near us — not just only for us but the entire midtown area,” he said.
The city started exploring the concept of a sanctioned homeless encampment in late fall 2021, with officials first introducing a proposal that would have resulted in multiple, smaller sanctioned campsites in other parts of the city. However, Ochoa said at last week’s meeting the option lacked adequate options to provide services.
Ochoa said the city started with over 100 locations before whittling it down to five: Franklin Miles Park, Siler Road Yard, Ashbaugh Park, the midtown campus and the stable area by the Genoveva Chavez Community Center.
The city pivoted to a one-site model that would allow for more wraparound services for about 50 people, eyeing the 64-acre midtown campus because of the existing Consuelo’s Place shelter created during the coronavirus pandemic to give homeless people a place to quarantine if they contracted COVID-19.
The location would likely use pallet shelters, smaller structures that can be moved and reused and come with a 10-year warranty, as opposed to potentially cheaper options, including heavy-duty ice fishing tents.
Beverly Kellam, deputy director of the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place, said at Wednesday’s meeting every time she hears complaints about homeless people who aren’t staying in shelters, it centers on the same issues: trash, needles, loitering and sanitary issues.
An encampment like the one the city is proposing could provide those hygiene services while also giving people a safe place to be instead of loitering around area businesses, she added.
“Safe outdoor spaces create options for service providers to offer real help to real people to get them the services they desperately need,” Kellam said. “Safe outdoor spaces may not be perfect, but they are so much better — even for the people who might be the direct neighbors, even if it was at midtown — than widespread camping ever would be.”
Elder Guzman, owner of Dos Amigos Sport Mexican Restaurant on Cerrillos Road, said he doesn’t see any problems with the recommendation.
He said it might cut down on loitering and people sleeping on private property.
“I always have people sleeping on my patio. I find feces, urine on the walls, trash,” he said. “I am afraid sometimes to tell them anything because I don’t want anyone to go and vandalize my building.”
City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic said there are 70 active encampments around the city.
Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth said Wednesday homelessness is an area that comes with a lot of preconceived notions and stereotypes about homeless people.
When asked by Romero-Wirth what Santa Fe knows about its homeless community, Ochoa responded bluntly.
“I’d just like to say that homeless is not a category of people; it’s a state of not having a house. So that is what we know, not to be glib,” she said. “Homeless people are people who do not have a house. I have homeless people who work in my department. I have homeless people who live in cars, and I have [those] who shout loudly on the sidewalks that I know, and we all know.
“It is important to recognize that homeless people may be from here or may not be from here, but they are not a category of person,” she added.
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