Santa Fe must do better by homeless

The homeless population in Santa Fe seems to be rising, and a better program to help is needed to be put into place. Soon.

I lived in Santa Monica, Calif., for 36 years, where homeless people are a part of your everyday existence. I would be asked for money whenever I left my home to bank, shop, go to the gym, get gas in the car. I commuted by bicycle rather than walk the one mile to my studio as I could move more quickly past the lingering groups at Venice Beach.

I altered my choice of clothing to protect myself from being approached and walked with a dog or two, just so I could get from point A to B without being stopped to be asked for money.

The homeless population keeps growing here and is now large enough to oppress the residents, workers and tourists with their instant, unsolicited requests.

We passed a mom with three small children pushing shopping carts yesterday on Cerrillos Road, and then gave a veteran with a sign and a dog a handout on Zafarano Drive and Rodeo Road. It was 85 degrees. Scam? One has to be desperate to choose that situation.

I read today that the mayor requests that you donate money to organizations rather than individuals. Referencing that a growing number of desperate people are asking for handouts at busy intersections, we supported the local organizations instead of giving out individual handouts, but it seemed to make little difference in Santa Monica.

Santa Fe needs to support the homeless population in a better way. We actually have a facility that is empty that can house and feed people and offer them a safe place to park their car or van, or pitch a tent if they prefer sleeping outside. We have the government-owned former Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus with empty dorms and unused kitchens and cafeterias (“Moving forward,” Aug. 8).

I’m not offering only an altruistic solution, but a practical solution that will help keep Santa Fe an attractive tourist destination and street-friendly city. Offering this refuge will entice most off the streets. You don’t want those tourist tax dollars to disappear or businesses to close down, so set a budget to not only help desperate families but allow your taxpaying residents and tourists a more enjoyable experience.

Using the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus to support the homeless may sound expensive, but I bet that the city would grow richer in many ways by offering it. I hope the City Different can be the first in the U.S. to address this horrible situation in a successful way.

Helen K. Garber is a photo-based mixed media artist in Santa Fe. She is teaching Santa Fe Noir for the Santa Fe Photo Workshops this month.

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