SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Santa Fe is reversing course on its policy for clearing homeless and unsheltered encampments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the city “deprioritized” removing encampments, but officials say they’re now going back to removing camps.

“It’s imperative that we find real solutions to unsheltered camping,” Kyra Ochoa, the director of the Community Health and Safety Department said in a press release. Solutions should “protect the quality of life in all our neighborhoods and connect people living out of doors with shelter and housing that meet their needs.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber issued emergency proclamations that deprioritized enforcing existing city ordinances that prohibited encampments. The idea was to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by leaving encampments more or less in place.

Now, the city says it plans on resuming ordinance enforcement starting September 2. Those caught camping on city property will be directed to available shelters, according to the news release.

One local man, who was once homeless, says shelters aren’t always the right answer.

“Sometimes the encampment is the safer choice for people, especially if they do know several other homeless people and they feel safe with them,” Allan Boulley said.

Santa Fe, similar to Albuquerque, has recently seen unhoused people take to the streets. Local businesses expressed frustration over the issue. In response, the city and community members considered opening a sanctioned camp area at Santa Fe’s Midtown site. The city now says it’s no longer exploring that option.

Resuming ordinance enforcement, the city will clear encampments in the order that they’re reported. The city created new park ranger staff positions to clear those camps. And the city says community outreach workers know about the change in policy.

To help accommodate displaced individuals, the non-profit community center Pete’s Place will open its doors to men on September 2. That’s earlier than usual, as the center generally operates a women-and-children-only safe haven until mid-October.

The city is still looking for longer-term options. A roundtable meeting happened Tuesday evening at the Santa Fe Convention Center with the community to talk about solutions. Many said more affordable housing, higher wages, mental health care, and shelters are a start.