On Wednesday, the Santa Fe City Council sent the lease for the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place back to several committees before it would vote on the renewal.
Meanwhile, the only place that accepts those who are most marginalized in town and offers some semblance of stability must limp along, month by month, while the lease goes through review by a number of different committees, all with different political agendas.
The erroneous claim of a single councilor that the city had not properly inspected the building precipitated this call for lease renewal by committee. In fact, the shelter underwent a major renovation this past year and went through numerous safety inspections, including a city fire inspection. It is surprising for the city itself to suggest officials gave the shelter an occupancy permit after a major renovation without the required inspections. Smoke and mirrors are the only plausible reasons this issue even arose.
Sitting through the council meeting Wednesday gave me the eerie feel of politicians trying to appease a small but vocal group of constituents in the easiest way possible, at the cost of those who have no voice. But how we treat the most vulnerable among us is a reflection of who we choose to be as a people.
The actual issue at hand is the 10 or 15 individuals who are not allowed on shelter property but who loiter on and around Harrison Street. Last year, the shelter served 1,315 individuals experiencing homelessness. Somehow, those 10 or 15 people have blinded everyone to the hundreds of people who received services vital to their survival — meals, clothing and a place to sleep during frigid weather — all without causing problems for the surrounding neighborhood.
Harrison Street is the responsibility of the city of Santa Fe. There was a time when community policing was the order of the day. Officers would sit in their cars in our parking lot and do their paperwork, or stop by to see how things were going, even sometimes handing out burritos to our guests.
The officers knew the guests, and the guests knew the officers. The loss of community policing is not only a loss for the shelter and our neighbors on Harrison, but for the community at large.
After Wednesday’s City Council meeting, I received a phone call from Chief Andrew Padilla to discuss a renewed push by the Santa Fe Police Department to assign officers and step up the patrols on Harrison. This is not the first time we have received such a commitment. If it happens, the entire neighborhood would benefit, especially if they are able to work closely with outreach workers to get the people on Harrison Street the help they need to move forward with their lives.
If the activities that have been taking place on Harrison Street this summer were happening downtown on West San Francisco Street — people camping out, blocking the sidewalk and street, openly shooting up and defecating in public, the police response would have been prompt and thorough.
I’d like to think that here in Santa Fe, the City of Holy Faith, there aren’t two Americas — one downtown, and the other on Harrison and the many other streets where the poor and disenfranchised call home.