ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) –  After more than six months of debates, the highly controversial so-called “safe outdoor spaces” is moving forward. One space, at the Westside Emergency Housing Center, which is essentially a sanctioned homeless camp, has been open for over a month and a second at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center near Edith and Candelaria is getting ready to welcome new residents.

“There are hundreds of individuals who are living in their vehicle throughout the city that do not have access to services, they don’t have [a] consistent place to park, they don’t have a safe place to park,” said Heading Home CEO Steve Decker.

Decker says the New Mexico nonprofit is operating the first two sanctioned homeless camps, both of which will house people who are currently living in their cars. While the safe outdoor parking space for the homeless at the Westside Emergency Housing Center has room for 40 vehicles, the lot at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center, which is set to house 12 vehicles, could soon be home to around 20 people.

“They can park in the parking lot and use the computer lab and meet with case managers, and do the employment program. They can come in and take a good shower,” added Decker.

The Heading Home CEO says the sanctioned encampments will have some requirements for those looking to get a spot. “For safe outdoor parking at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center, you must commit to be part of the program and meet with a case manager and get ahead and get out of the streets,” says Decker.

He says the spots available at the sanctioned encampment at the AOC will only be for men with working vehicles while the WHEC will house men, women, and families. Decker says residents will have to follow rules – like no drug use – and if broken, the person will be kicked out.

However, people who live nearby have raised some concerns. “They’re going to increase the number of homeless people in our area. These people should not be in their cars, they should be in a facility where they are dealing with their issues,” said Martinez Town President Loretta Naranjo Lopez. 

Hoping to ease those concerns, Decker says they will have security at the sites and he has a lot of faith in this program. “Anyone who is a naysayer or who has concerns should come and be part of the program, come and see what is actually going on,” added Decker.

While they have yet to fill the 12 spots at Albuquerque Opportunity Center, Decker says he has yet to receive any applications but expects spots will fill up fast once word spreads.

Decker says the plan is to get people transitioned into more permanent housing within 90 days. So far, the city has approved three safe outdoor spaces.

The Martineztown Association along with the Menaul Business Community will be holding a meeting at 6:00 p.m. at the Menaul gym on January 9 to express their concerns against the city-sanctioned encampments. A petition has also been made available.