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Doña Ana County buys land for transitional housing project


The Doña Ana County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to purchase two plots of land for an upcoming transitional housing project near the intersection of W. Picacho and N. Motel boulevards.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to authorize the county manager to buy land at 854 and 856 N. Motel Boulevard for up to $800,000 during a meeting on Feb. 27. Commissioner Shannon Reynolds was absent from the vote.

Advocates for the project said the housing is key to interrupting cycles of arrest and release and re-arrest caused by underlying mental health issues. But some questions were raised about the impact the housing will have on the area.

“Right now, we need just more units available for people so we have fewer folks living completely unhoused or living in motels,” said Jamie Michael, the county’s health and human services director. “Neither of those environments are recovery-focused. And living in motels is definitely not financially feasible.”

Michael said the project would bolster the supply of transitional housing to help people just released from the Doña Ana County Detention Center. The complex would consist of modular homes owned but not used by the Doña Ana County Fire Department.

The project is still in an early phase, Michael said. But she estimated it could be operational in six months.

“We’re going slow right now,” Michael said. “We’re just talking about how do we build the facility, how do we get the infrastructure in place.”

Las Cruces has some transitional housing already. Organizations including  Community of Hope, FYI+, La Clinica De Familia, and Zia Recovery Center offer the services to specific groups.

According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, transitional housing provides emergency shelter to prevent people from falling into homelessness or interrupt cycles that prevent people from obtaining housing.

The housing is temporary. Typically, people aren’t allowed to stay in the unit for over a year or two. Most transitional housing comes alongside other services like job training, therapy, and drug addiction recovery services. Michael said the vision for this project is for groups like the Community of Hope and La Clinica to support and mental..

This project would serve eight men who’d recently had contact with the criminal justice system but were diverted into a diversion program.

“Many of them may be recently released from jail. Some of them may have been diverted prior to booking. Some of them may be leaving an inpatient facility,” Michael said.

While that might seem like a few people, the Las Cruces Police Department has repeatedly emphasized the role that a handful of people stuck in cycles of crime, arrest, and release have on community safety.

The transitional housing complex would be located about one mile from Picacho Middle School, which Commissioner Susana Chaparro raised before the board approved the purchase. Chaparro said she supported the project but wanted to relay questions she’d received from her constituents.

“One of the questions that came to me, and it was from a teacher, was how a safe place to be created for the community is, not so much for the participants,” Chaparro asked. “As we all know, this corridor (W. Picacho and N. Motel) is one of the most unsafe places in the city.”

Michael said the transitional housing project was geared toward addressing that problem.

 “Their behavior that is scary or their behavior that is criminal behavior sometimes is motivated by an untreated mental illness or unmet needs,” Michael said. “If we’re able to meet those needs, then we reduce that scary behavior or that criminal behavior.”

Chaparro restated her question, asking for more specifics. Robert Herrera, county director of facilities and parks, said the transitional housing project would be built and managed in such a way as to promote safety.

“We’re in the very early stages of the design process,” Herrera said. “But we will implement architectural elements that will control access to the facility.”

Herrera said the facility would be gated, set back a few dozen feet from the main road and have a wall around it.

“This isn’t a facility to keep people there,” said Commissioner Christopher Schaljo-Hernandez. “It’s a facility to alleviate the fact that they’re without a home and without resources. This facility is to provide those and get them off the street.”

Transitional housing project, land purchase, Dona Ana County