Homelessness, panhandling and the need to clean up weeds and litter are all sources of complaints in Santa Fe.
A proposal working its way through City Hall is intended to help address all three issues.
The city is considering a two-year, $140,000 contract with Life Link that would put homeless people, panhandlers and others to work cleaning weeds, picking up trash and doing multiple other tasks on the midtown campus that once housed the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design, as well as at several city parks and along arroyos and the Santa Fe River.
“This does a lot of good through one simple contract,” Mayor Alan Webber said Monday.
The proposed Better Way Van Program, modeled after a similar program in Albuquerque, started last year as a pilot project under the Community Services Department. The latest initiative would include funding and participation from the city’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments.
“The other contract was more of an emphasis on the case management and less of an emphasis on the work, so it’s kind of an evolution,” said Kyra Ochoa, community services director.
The proposed contract between the city and Life Link, which helps homeless people and others, has sailed through at least two City Council committees.
“Having an honest day of work and getting paid for it is really important for people that really are trying to get out of a situation that they didn’t necessarily choose, so I appreciate that we’re getting involved in that way,” City Councilor Renee Villarreal said Monday before the Public Works Committee unanimously endorsed the proposed contract.
The new program would address three of Webber’s marquee issues: job creation, ending homelessness and beautifying the city.
Webber encouraged people who give money to panhandlers to give to Life Link instead.
“If we can get generous Santa Feans to contribute to the Life Link website [at thelifelink.org], this program can grow,” the mayor said. “It can expand to meet as many individuals as we can sign up if the Life Link team has the funds. So, we’re kickstarting it, but we’re hoping to get additional support from residents of the city who think this is a worthwhile venture for so many good reasons.”
Ochoa said people can specify they want their donations to go to the Better Way Program on Life Link’s website.
“The wonderful thing about it is it’s not only a day’s work, which is great unto itself,” she said about the program. “They get some training in how to do landscaping and other things that the city needs, and they also get, if needed, some case management. And they get linked to longer term services, which is really a big end goal of the project itself.”
Webber said Santa Fe residents “have all noticed the issues of homelessness and panhandlers in the city.” He said his administration is looking for constructive solutions to help people in need.
“There are lots of ways that don’t work,” he said. “You can try to arrest them. You can suppress their rights to free speech. You can do a lot of things that are really not constructive and don’t represent the best values of our community. Or, you can come up with a creative solution. This is a very creative solution.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.