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Sites identified for new homeless tent city; Prospect of a camp in downtown Roswell raises concerns

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh reviews options for a potential homeless camp in Roswell. A City Council committee on Tuesday recommended converting a Parks & Recreation Department facility into a facility for the city's homeless. (Jeff Tucker Photo)

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With some trepidation of a creating a public nuisance and uprising by citizens, a Roswell City Council committee took the first steps Tuesday toward creating a temporary homeless camp in the downtown area.

This Roswell Parks & Recreation Department facility near 12th Street and North Virginia Avenue, not far from the Roswell Community Little Theatre, has been identified as a potential homeless facility, intended to move the homeless from the Berrendo River bed. (Jeff Tucker Photo)

The Ad Hoc Committee on Temporary Transitional Housing, which met Tuesday for its first and only planned meeting, voted 4-1 Tuesday to proceed with a proposal to convert a Roswell Parks & Recreation Department facility near 12th Street and North Virginia Avenue into a facility for the city’s homeless.
In a prior vote, the committee voted 5-0 to recommend that the city begin negotiations with the Roswell Homeless Coalition to establish a homeless camp intended to move the city’s homeless population out of the Berrendo River bed.
City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best cast the dissenting vote in the subsequent roll call, saying a homeless camp in the downtown area could be met with strong opposition from the public. Best said homeless people “are not the most clean people” and could give city tourists a bad impression of the downtown area.
“We do have tourists traveling up and down Virginia (Avenue). From the outside looking in, what am I going to see?” Best asked. “Am I going to see a well-organized running machine, or am I going to see sporadic laundry hanging on the fence and clothesline?”
Best asked if the Roswell Homeless Coalition would be able to rein in the behavior of people at a downtown homeless camp.
“Are we going to have an uprising of the Roswell citizens in a situation where we’ve moved them closer to town?” Best asked. “Are you controlling this under the bridge right now where they are?”
City councilors Barry Foster, Natasha Mackey, Juan Oropesa and Jason Perry voted in favor of the motion directing City Manager Joe Neeb to proceed with negotiations with the Roswell Homeless Coalition, and in favor of a primary and secondary location for the homeless camp.
Oropesa cautioned the city’s homeless may not want to live in a tent city or comply with its rules.
“You’ve got individuals that choose to be out there that don’t want restrictions in their life, and those individuals, you’re not going to be able to bring them in, regardless if they have mental issues or have problems with drugs or whatever,” Oropesa said. “That’s the type of life that they chose.”
“How open are these folks to moving?” Best asked. “We always have wanderers and nomads, that’s just a given in life, that’s human nature, but how open are they to moving and being rehabilitated?”
Deputy Police Chief Mike Stanton the size of the homeless camp would affect public perceptions.
“The (homeless) people I’ve talked to have absolutely no interest in going anywhere to these types of camps or anything like that,” Stanton said. “They want to be left alone. They don’t want anybody there. They want no rules. Those would be the type of people that I could see causing some sort of a significant problem in the downtown area where you’re having close access to hotels and cars.
“I could see the potential, if it’s not run correctly, for it to have significant impact on the businesses and stuff in the surrounding areas.”

Potential sites
The primary location recommended by the Ad Hoc Committee on Temporary Transitional Housing was the Parks & Recreation Department facility near the Roswell Community Little Theatre. The secondary location approved by the ad hoc committee was city-owned property along East Alameda Street.
The recommendations from the ad hoc committee are scheduled to go before the full City Council for consideration at its Sept. 14 meeting.
“The governing body, even though we have more than a quorum here, can reject or amend whatever recommendation this committee makes,” said Kintigh, who chaired Tuesday afternoon’s committee meeting at City Hall.
The city’s planning manager, Bill Morris, outlined several potential sites owned by the city for the homeless camp, as well as a couple of privately owned properties. Tuesday’s meeting followed a public forum on homelessness held Aug. 24 at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center.
Morris said site-specific requirements such as proximity to public transportation, access to water and sewer utilities, solid waste access, adequate size, proximity to a fire station, locations outside residential areas and other criteria were used to score each of the nine sites.
“We’ve looked at quite a few places,” Morris told the ad hoc committee. “I can tell you there’s no perfect place that meets all of these criterion.”
Two sites — a piece of city-owned land at South Park Cemetery and city property along East Alameda Street, near South Stanton Avenue — were ranked as finalists, Morris said.
Two privately owned sites, the former sites of Glover’s and the Ice House, were also examined, Morris said.
Mark Green of the Homeless Coalition said the 1.8-acre Ice House site at 1001 N. Virginia Ave. has the advantages of being on the bus line and not being far from the Harvest Ministries food bank at 601 N. Main St.
“The main thing is that we want something that’s going to work with everybody,” Green said. “We just want a solution to the problem. We just want to be able to help these people and to deal with the issue of homelessness.”
Green said he also examined city property on South Sunset Avenue, between McGaffey and Hobbs streets, near the New Mexico Human Services Department Income Support Division office at 1701 S. Sunset Ave.
“It’s an industrial area,” Green said. “I’m wondering if that might not be at least a consideration. The main thing that we’re looking for is just a secure location.”

Longterm solution
Green said his top choice for a long-range homeless project would be the old Glover meat packing plant near College Boulevard and Garden Avenue. Green said he spoke with the property’s manager, who indicated he would sale the property for $250,000.
“It has a lot of land, it’s in an industrial area. That would be my No. 1 pick, if that was a possibility,” Green said. “I think Glover would be ideal for a long-range project if that’s an opportunity.”
Morris said the city explored only short-range possibilities, with the intent of having a homeless camp in place by wintertime.
Some city councilors expressed concerns about the temporary camp’s appearance.
“What is it going to look like?” asked City Councilor Savino Sanchez Jr.
Green said the temporary camp would entail 40 to 50 camping-type tents on raised ground to prevent flooding, a guardhouse or recreational vehicle with a director, a grill and picnic area, a toilet and shower area, and laundry facilities.
“We want to transition them out of the tents and into something smaller, and then hopefully get them on the HUD list or whatever else we need to to get them into traditional housing,” Green said.
Green said setting up the tent camp would be relatively easy and could be done within a month. He said a location for temporary transitional housing was first needed to pursue funding sources for the homeless camp, such as grants.
Green said about 20 homeless people are currently camping in the Berrendo River bed, with another 100 or so homeless people scattered about town.
Kintigh suggested implementing the homeless pilot project for 30 months.
“It kind of goes back to the fact that there is no perfect location, but it begins getting the people where they need to be in a safer location,” Kintigh said. “The quickest and simplest ways would be to either entering into a lease agreement with the Homeless Coalition for city-owned property, or you have a private arrangement with an individual or entity that loans you or gives you property. In both cases, however, there will be some zoning issues to be resolved.”
“We do have plenty of land that we don’t need,” Foster added.
“True,” Kintigh replied.
Editor Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at editor@rdrnews.com.

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