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NMSU geography department lends expertise to map local tent city for homeless

A digital map created at New Mexico State University aims to change the landscape of Las Cruces and help rezone a haven for the homeless called Camp Hope.

Female pushing a button on a large map-making machine
Katelyn Jeffs, geography major in the College of Arts and Sciences, uses a plotter to print large-scale maps in the NMSU Spatial and Applications Research Lab (SpARC). (NMSU photo by Tonya Suther)

The detailed map, created by NMSU's Spatial and Applications Research Center lab (SpARC), depicts a proposed layout of the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope's temporary campsite, Camp Hope. The mock up, which will be used in a presentation to the city council in a rezoning request, incorporates the requirements established by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. The public hearing to approve a planned unit development is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the City Council chambers at City Hall.

"We were especially happy to do this project, because it gave us an opportunity to help the MVCH advance a very noteworthy effort, and in doing so, give back to the Las Cruces community," said Christopher Brown, geography department head and SpARC lab director. "This was also a chance for one of our student staff members to take on this project as their own, do all of the work needed to complete the project, and learn more about the good work that the MVCH is doing to advance Camp Hope."

Camp Hope was founded in 2011 as a temporary living facility for homeless adults not able to stay at the Gospel Rescue Mission for various reasons. The campsite, referred to as a tent city, provides a safe place for up to 50 homeless persons to sleep overnight while working toward transitioning from homelessness. The facility is located on the MVCH campus, an alliance of agencies that address homelessness in Las Cruces.

The map, produced by College of Arts and Sciences senior Katelyn Jeffs, shows property lines, restrooms and fencing. It also displays the number of tents on the site, the distance between each tent and where the road for emergency vehicles lies.

"Hopefully my work will draw attention to Camp Hope and bring together the community a little more," Jeffs said. "I hope this project will touch someone's heart out there, so that someone else will start working on change."

Jeffs used satellite imagery and parcel data provided by Dona Ana County to create the on-screen digitization. She also provided MVCH with digital geographic information system support to be used for any edits or changes needed.

"From the detailed map provided from Katelyn, I was able to pass on the map to NMSU's Engineers without Borders, so that they could add elevation and drainage studies to it," said MVCH Executive Director Nichole Martinez. "It has been a great collaborative effort, and I am so heartened by the assistance of NMSU faculty, staff and students in the geography and engineering departments, and their support to help make MVCH a safer place for those who are at risk in our community."

Brown first heard of Camp Hope's efforts through county officials' collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences on last year's J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium. Each year the symposium is devoted to an issue of concern to the state and region. The 2012 and 2013 symposiums are focused on improving the quality of life for all who live in Dona Ana County.

Last October, Martinez contracted SpARC for assistance in developing a map that showed a more developed Camp Hope. Brown agreed to do the work pro bono, and asked SpARC coordinator Randy Carr to find a student interested in the idea. Carr worked with Jeffs, and she completed the mapping in November.

"I decided to take on this project because it was different," Jeffs said. "It offered not only the technical skills that I could put to use, but it also meant that I was part of a change in Las Cruces."

"Katelyn's work on the project will assist the city in their efforts to address the needs of all members of the Las Cruces community," Carr said. "The city should look at these innovative approaches to social issues like homelessness. It's a great idea that benefits the city."

For more information about SpARC or the mapping project contact Brown at brownchr@nmsu.edu.