Las Cruces city manager announces launch of upcoming anti-poverty initiative

·4 min read
Las Cruces City Manager Ifo Pili speaks during the Faith for the Unhoused meeting at Las Cruces City Hall on Thursday, June 30, 2022.
Las Cruces City Manager Ifo Pili speaks during the Faith for the Unhoused meeting at Las Cruces City Hall on Thursday, June 30, 2022.

LAS CRUCES - City Manager Ifo Pili announced an ambitious new initiative for alleviating poverty will launch in a month.

The city manager’s comments came during a meeting of faith leaders on homelessness hosted by District 4 Las Cruces City Councilor Johana Bencomo on Thursday. Pili spoke about the new poverty-fighting program, called Lift Up Las Cruces.

Pili said the city plans to hold a "kickoff" event July 30 in the area targeted by the program.

The city's Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes an allocation of $278,000 out of the city's Telshor Facility Fund, a reserve fund meant to assist the city's low-income and sick residents, toward the Lift Up Las Cruces program. Pili also said the city has applied for federal funding to help finance the program.

Nearly one in four Las Cruces residents live in poverty, according to 2020 American Community Survey estimates.

Pili, who’s served as city manager for nearly two years and has a standout economic development background, has put poverty reduction at the top of his mind as he runs the city.

Las Cruces City Manager Ifo Pili speaks during the Faith for the Unhoused meeting at Las Cruces City Hall on Thursday, June 30, 2022.
Las Cruces City Manager Ifo Pili speaks during the Faith for the Unhoused meeting at Las Cruces City Hall on Thursday, June 30, 2022.

"As I saw the effects of poverty and homelessness in our community, I became more and more overwhelmed," Pili said Thursday.

In his previous role as a city administrator in Eagle Mountain, Utah, Pili helped lure Facebook and Tyson Foods to the area. While economic development was one of Pili’s marching orders when he was hired by the city council in 2020, he said poverty came up as an important, intersecting issue in his initial talks with city councilors.

The Lift Up Las Cruces program targets one area of the city which concurrently faces high poverty, high crime and a need for infrastructure investments. Pili said the area chosen is bound by North Triviz Drive, Anita Drive, East Madrid Avenue, North Solano Drive and Spruce Avenue.

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"I believe we've come up with a program that is going to be successful," Pili told faith and nonprofit leaders Thursday, "and I'll tell you why. Because it keeps government out of the things we should be out of, and it puts government into the things that we should be."

By that, Pili said he means the government will pave roads and put in streetlights, but the community, he expects, will put the legwork into looking after one another on a more personal level. He cited a proposed barbershop mentorship program which gives free haircuts as an example.

Las Cruces City Councilor Johana Bencomo speaks during  the Faith for the Unhoused meeting at Las Cruces City Hall on Thursday, June 30, 2022.
Las Cruces City Councilor Johana Bencomo speaks during the Faith for the Unhoused meeting at Las Cruces City Hall on Thursday, June 30, 2022.

"We could focus on this area and remove all the processes and bureaucracy of government that maybe prevents us from hitting this area sooner than we would like," Pili said.

The city government will just be the "bones" of the program, Pili said. "The meat that comes around that is you … the people in the community that have been fighting this fight for years," he explained to the attendees.

The upcoming launch of the anti-poverty program comes at a time when many members of the public have harshly criticized city leaders for lacking adequate solutions to crime and homelessness, two things often tied to poverty.

The complainants include business owners and local industry leaders who have experienced theft of materials, vandalism and unhoused people trespassing on premises, and it includes residents who live near and in a housing complex for formerly unhoused people which they say has been neglected.

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Public discussion has often conflated homelessness and crime and often included dehumanizing language about unhoused people and the conditions in which they live. In response, prominent city leaders have often spent more time discussing changes to bail reform with the public than ways to reduce poverty.

Bencomo is one of the elected city officials whose input to Pili led to the Lift Up program. She also has consistently emphasized poverty reduction as key in curbing crime.

"Since Ifo came on board, I've been talking to him about poverty in our community and really addressing it at the root cause," Bencomo said. "The conversations (other councilors were having with Ifo), really all of these were happening separately, and Ifo with his team took them and said we can do something here locally."

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Las Cruces city manager announced launch of anti-poverty initiative