Drug abuse and safety concerns near the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place dominated a community discussion held by the city Tuesday evening.
Much of the discussion surrounded deteriorating conditions around the shelter, located at the corner of Cerrillos and Harrison roads.
Residents and business owners painted a picture that included drug dealing, aggressive behavior and sexual assault, particularly along Harrison Road.
Those problems led some to call for the shelter’s relocation.
Santa Fe resident Susan Guevara said the situation has only spiraled in the 14 years she has lived near the facility.
”The situation has gone from ‘Aw, gee, this is a drag’ to absolutely frightening,” Guevara said. “I told the City Council and Mayor [Alan] Webber that we have already had assaults there; we are going to see batteries soon. That is one of the biggest reasons why this shelter needs to be in a more appropriate area.”
George Lyon, announced as the shelter’s new executive director in May, said that regardless of where the facility is located, the underlying problem will persist.
”We will resolve the situation with your help,” Lyon said. “It’s not just Pete’s Place. If you move Pete’s, you’re just moving it to another area. The problem is a disease that is hurting our community, and without concerted effort, it is not going to change.”
Police Chief Andrew Padilla said the community needs to unite to find a solution to the issues.
”The location it is in, it is there,” Padilla said. “Until we come together as a city, a county and a state and identify a better location, unfortunately, we have to deal with this situation as a community and as a group.”
The city approved a new four-year lease with the shelter in October. The meeting, held virtually via Zoom, was a requirement of the city’s agreement with Pete’s Place.
Capt. Matthew Champlin said the police department typically receives complaints about loitering, which affects the quality of life for business owners and residents in the area.
The city does not have an ordinance against loitering.
There were 118 dispatched calls for service on Harrison Road from June 1 to July 13, according to the police department.
During that same time, Champlin said the department completed 140 drive-bys in the area, also known as proactive close patrols.
”That is the highest amount of close patrols I have seen in that time period in one area,” Champlin said.
Community Health and Safety Director Kyra Ochoa outlined actions taken by the city to mitigate safety concerns, including adding $90,000 to an Allied Security contract for Harrison Street during the past fiscal year.
City officials also detailed a budding plan to increase sidewalk access along Harrison Road, often impeded by tents, according to residents.
Improvements to spotty street lighting along the road to help address safety issues in the corridor also were proposed.
Mark Edwards, owner of Z Pets Hotel and Spa on Harrison Road, said he felt it currently was more dangerous during the day than at night and didn’t believe infrastructure improvements would help with safety.
“I have a 13-year-old volunteer who lives in the Homewise project who doesn’t feel safe enough to walk to my business to volunteer there,” Edwards said. “She is not even allowed to come out of my business until her mother is in the parking lot.”
Santa Fe resident Miguel Gabaldon said if the city did widen the sidewalk, it would result in more sidewalk camping and need for enforcement.
City Councilor Renee Villarreal, who spearheaded the sidewalk-widening effort with Councilor Signe Lindell, said that while she didn’t believe it was a fix for issues swirling around Harrison Road, it helped meet a constituent’s request.
”I don’t want to disregard the folks who do want that,” Villarreal said.
Villarreal said while she is concerned about homelessness, she receives more complaints about drug dealers, drug use and gangs.
“The complaints we get are not complaints against the homeless populations,” she said. “It’s really about the people who prey on these folks.”
Champlin said arresting away a drug problem was not a solution, adding better alternative was providing support services.
Mayor Alan Webber agreed.
“You can’t arrest someone for being homeless,” Webber said. “That is not a crime in our city. It is a crime to be a drug dealer, to threaten someone with violence, to be a gang member throwing rocks and intimidating people and blocking them into their cars.”