For years, residents and businesses near the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place have complained that some members of the homeless community congregating in the area have been dealing drugs, trespassing, stealing, littering and acting menacing.

Their grievances grew louder last week when the Santa Fe City Council discussed renewing the shelter’s lease for four years. Councilors delayed taking action because it wants the state to first conduct safety inspections on the building at Cerrillos and Harrison roads.

In response to neighbors’ concerns, however, city officials recently approved spending $172,000 on lighting and sidewalk improvements on Harrison Road to make it safer for residents at night and harder for loiterers to conceal crimes. Santa Fe police also will increase patrols around Pete’s Place, officials said, although they didn’t say by how much.

One longtime resident noted it took a decade for the city to agree to fund improvements on Harrison Road.

“If issues were never raised about Pete’s Place recently, it probably would still be on the back burner,” Frederick Jones said in an email.

He and other neighbors weren’t notified 10 years ago that a homeless shelter was being planned at the site and now have no choice about how long it will remain, Jones said.

“If I was in city government I would be … making it up to the residents for the burden of what the facility has created,” he wrote in the email.

The renewed focus on Pete’s Place comes as the city considers spending $2 million in federal novel coronavirus relief funding to purchase a motel to serve as an emergency shelter for the homeless and others who need a place to isolate during the pandemic. In the pandemic’s early months, the city created an emergency shelter at the midtown campus on St. Michael’s Drive.

The emergency shelter, in the old dorm facilities at the former college campus, helped ease crowding at Pete’s Place and allowed clients to spread out and slow the potential transmission of the virus.

The city hopes to continue the effort at another location.

Meanwhile, the group that gathers outside is likely to grow in the coming months as the weather chills and more people are drawn to Pete’s Place.

The shelter serves more than 1,000 people each year who rely on its warm beds and meals for their survival, Director Joe Jordan-Berenis said in a recent opinion piece published in The New Mexican. Those who cause problems for nearby business owners and neighbors are limited to 10 or 15 people who have been banned from the shelter for bad behavior.

Neighbors, city leaders and Jordan-Berenis said police are often slow to respond to calls about crimes or don’t come at all.

“I’m told it is worse now than in the past,” City Councilor Signe Lindell said.

Jordan-Berenis said if the same activities happened downtown, people illegally camping, openly using drugs, blocking the sidewalk and street, and defecating in public, the police response would be “prompt and thorough.”

Chief Andrew Padilla defended the agency’s response to reports of illicit activity near the shelter. Officers always come, he said, but they might arrive an hour or two after the call because they were tied up with more urgent matters.

He said he has told officers to go by the shelter more often.

“We can’t just have a dedicated officer there all day, every day,” Padilla said.

There are eight to 12 officers working at any given time to cover the city, so an officer might be called away for something more serious such as a fatal car crash or domestic violence, Padilla said.

“I understand people’s frustrations, but we have the entire city to police,” he said. “With the resources that we have, we’re doing our best.”

There’s not much officers can do about loiterers who aren’t committing crimes, the chief added. Removing them from the sidewalk with no just cause would violate their civil rights.



“It’s a city sidewalk. You have every right to be on that sidewalk,” Padilla said.

In his opinion piece, Jordan-Berenis said he and Padilla have discussed stepping up the police presence.

He recalled the days of community policing, when officers would park across the street from Pete’s Place, sometimes while doing their paperwork from other cases, and would get to know the people who spend time there.

“This is not the first time we have received such a commitment,” Jordan-Berenis said of the increased patrols. “If it happens, the entire neighborhood would benefit.”

City Councilor Renee Villarreal said Pete’s Place is an important resource that aids one of the most vulnerable populations in the city, but she believes the “nefarious and dangerous activities” that affect clients and the neighborhood must be addressed.

“The complaints and pleas for help from the surrounding neighbors and businesses is justified,” she said. “I don’t think anybody should have to be fearful to leave their home, walk down the block or be outside at night in their own neighborhood.”

The lighting and sidewalks on Harrison should’ve been improved long ago, Villarreal added.

City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler called the city’s plan for improved lighting on Harrison Road “a good first step.”

“Even if Pete’s Place wasn’t there, that street needs to be lit,” she said.

During a late-night police ride-along last winter, Vigil Coppler said, she observed homeless people gathered on the sidewalk outside Pete’s Place, many of them sprawled out, sleeping in the cold.

Officers cleared them off the sidewalk, she said, which drove many to hunker down at a nearby plaza.

The police car she was riding in also passed homeless people wandering in other areas along Cerrillos Road, Vigil Coppler said, calling the sight further evidence the city’s homeless population has outgrown its shelters. “They have nowhere to go.”

Pete’s Place probably should move to a larger building, she said, but she acknowledged a homeless shelter wouldn’t be welcome in most areas of the city.

Jones, the neighbor, agreed the shelter should move to a bigger facility to avoid the overflow. The prospect of running into a not-in-my-backyard attitude is no reason not to pursue it, he added.

“Move it and update it to truly work for the addicted, homeless, at-risk population,” Jones said.

Mayor Alan Webber said any homeless shelter would have some unlawful activity nearby. But a police crackdown isn’t the solution, he said, because being homeless isn’t a crime.

More services are needed to aid people with mental illness and behavioral problems who wind up on the street, Webber said, adding social workers might be better first responders than law enforcement to this type of situation.

The pandemic has aggravated the problem at Pete’s Place, Webber added. In recent months, the county jail wasn’t accepting people arrested for petty crimes because it was full, he said. That prevented the police from arresting people outside the shelter for infractions like trespassing because there was nowhere to put them.

Webber said Santa Fe’s homeless population is a symptom of former Gov. Susana Martinez cutting the state’s behavioral health programs.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a population on the street struggling to get their needs met,” Webber said. “At the same time, the neighborhood and the businesses have a clear and legitimate set of complaints.”

(18) comments

Donald Apodaca

Am aware that St. E's is trying to buy the Green Tree Inn. They, the City of Santa Fe must make a all cash offer quick. We don't wan't folks that are down on their luck to start doing home invasions. FACT: rich and wealthy folks are over paying for homes in Santa Fe. They will bring their safes full of gold and cash. We don't want them to become victims of rising crime in The City Different.

Daniel Werwath

Moving homeless shelters and additional policing are the policy equivalent of feeling your way through the dark. The solution, which isn't new or mysterious, is to create enough permanent supportive housing and provide behavioral health services. It's really that simple, and we could do it in a heartbeat if we wanted to. We put every homeless person in a hotel room at the beginning of the pandemic. And for all you austerity aficionados firing up your keyboards to whine "but how do we pay for it"... the average unhoused person costs taxpayers between $60-80k a year in services, policing, first responders, and medical interventions. If we don't fix the structural problem, it doesn't matter where it is, or how policed it is, there will be the same issues and we'll continue to bleed public resources on this issue. We can't afford not to invest in fixing this problem for good.

Donald Apodaca

[thumbup] Daniel Werwath you are correct it's simple. Hopefully, the politicos that can make it happen do so quickly. Buy the Green Tree In. Have St. E's manage it. Get it done!

Amanda Chavez

👍

Khal Spencer

Perhaps Pete's Place was an available and useful location for a shelter when Pete's Pets went belly up and the place was available for repurpose, but maybe not the best location. I have long worried about the confluence of mental illness, alcoholism, and drug use combined with a high speed six lane highway right out front. The neighborhood taking the brunt of the small minority who are guilty of bad behavior is equally troubling. The first time someone gets mauled on Harrison Road will be when the SHTF.

There is no perfect solution to this homeless problem and a lot of imperfect locations. Perhaps the city ought to be putting its nose to the grindstone on this issue rather than worrying about statues and other politically hot button but far less important issues. As I have said before on these pages, I don't think any statues are going hungry or in need of mental health crisis intervention tonight.

What would St. Francis do?

Nicoletta Munroe

Homelessness is not a crime, it is being abandoned, neglected and possibly poor. Homeless people need homes, not social workers whom are often not well themselves. Homeless people are human beings who deserve to live in a dignified manner. A location on Cerillos road is not a home, it is a shelter for those whom are experiencing homelessness. It may be the case that the shelter needs a new location. In addition, the neighborhood is suffering unduly from being under the shadow of the shelter, and in my opinion requires due care. It is negligence to expect one neighborhood to shoulder the burden of a shelter. Why not build something more wholistic, like a shelter that is also an employment center? People need to get to work, not lie around in a shelter. Employment brings dignity and a sense of autonomy. We need people to groom the medians and clear the arroyos. Homelessness is not a sentence, it is a temporary situation for people who deserve to be included not excluded from society.

Amanda Chavez

In reality due to MH issues...alot of homeless do need social workers or ccss workers to be an advocate to work through Life skills so they can get on their feet and eventually get housing. Connection with community resources. MH care is vital to ongoing long term stability.

Donato Velasco

for such an inclusive community and wanting to stop social injustice, now the wanting to push the people in need out further and out of site.. is the normal way of thinking. we close the agencies helping the people needing assistance and send them out to the next city so they can become their problem.. santa fe has become " not in my backyard and protect my property value".

Bob Res

Mr. Mayor, you have indeed encountered your “Marie Antoinette” moment!

Your comment “.....any homeless shelter would have some unlawful activity nearby. But a police crackdown isn’t the solution, he said, because being homeless isn’t a crime.” clearly tells the citizens who own and rent homes and businesses in the area to just “eat cake”!

Mr Mayor, I have a newsflash for you: Being homeless is not in itself a crime, but committing a crime, whether your homeless or not, IS against the law and should be taken seriously by you, the council, and the police!

Homelessness is not a valid defense.

—— Bob

Donato Velasco

the answer is not more police its a social problem that has to be dealt with councilors and treatment.. cant just brush it away..

Denise Jimenez

I would like to assure Mr. Jordan Berenis that there is plenty of illegal camping, drug use and sales, and public defecation going on in the Eastside and Plaza. Just in the last month I have witnessed people living at warehouse 21, at the old Santa Fe Clay, the Railyard Park, and along the river. They all were asleep and/or passed out in the late morning. I saw a man screaming as he urinated on the wall in front of the Rosario Cemetary at mid day. DeVargas Park has open drug use and the occasional murder. Some homeless people with mental issues walk around the neighborhoods screaming obscenities. Car break ins and mailbox theft are rampant. Police will generally not respond to petty theft property crimes. So much for special treatment.

david J.

Better get out and vote for Kamala Harris, she really did a bang up job cleaning up San Francisco.

Cheryl Odom

WWJD guys? It's that simple.

Phillip Trujillo

No one wants a homeless shelter in their backyard, and I feel for the Harrison Road residents. Many people despise the homeless including personal acquaintances of mine. Like the blacks unfairly targeted by police, or the police now targeted by many with calls for defunding, or the Mexicans targeted because someone said they were rapists, murderers and thugs the result is always that ignorant, extremists will generalize and stereotype all of them based on the actions of a few bad apples. Just like not all blacks are criminals, not all cops are racist idiots and abuse their authority, not all Mexicans including myself, born and raised here in the USA are rapists, thugs and murderers, and GUESS what people. NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE ARE addicts, trouble makers, etc. Many are the single mothers who ran into hard times. In a society where most people live paycheck to paycheck anyone of us could end up in the same situation. In fact, here in our city and other , the states, and the country the homeless population is going to increase due to those that were deemed to be non-essential workers and in a country of so called Christians we will continue to ignore them because things like Roe vs Wade or space travel and exploration are more important to us. What is wrong with us?

Donald Apodaca

We must never forget that Jesus was homeless. Santa Fe has the best programs for those that want to change their lives. St. E's is the best men's shelter program in the Country. Everyone of the staff members have empathy and compassion.

Donald Apodaca

We are enabling addicts that are self medicating with heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and alcohol in Santa Fe. The problem is worse that most people think. Our Mayor needs to reach out to the DEA for help. SFPD knows the Sinaloa Cartel has it's foot soldiers slinging their poison throughout The City Different. The DEA would be able to utilize stingray technology to track phone numbers of everyone participating in the illicit activity. The City needs to buy The Green Tree Inn from it's new owner (s). Then have St. Elizabeth's Shelter & Supporting Housing manage it. Pete's can be used as emergency shelter with limited capacity. Or shut down after the Green Tree Inn is bought by the City of Santa Fe.

Michael Marvier

How about hiring private security!

Donald Apodaca

The problem of hiring a $20 an hour security guard is cash bribes and or FEAR of being killed by an addict who is hired by a drug dealer.

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