On February 27, the City of Albuquerque released a report and analysis announcing the top 3 preferred locations for the new 24/7 homeless shelter known as the “Gateway Center”. The 3 locations are:
1. University of New Mexico land next to the state laboratory, near Interstate 25 and Camino de Salud
2. Coronado Park at 3rd Street and Interstate 40
3. The former Lovelace hospital on Gibson
The Crowne Plaza Hotel, which City Councilors Diane Gibson and Trudy Jones had said should be considered as an option was eliminated by the City due to acquisition cost.
According to a city news release, 149 potential sites were originally identified through a community feedback process. That process included an “on line” survey” for people to take. Thirty 30 sites were identified. The Keller Administration scored the 30 sites “based on ownership of the location, lot size, zoning, acquisition cost, access to transportation, and proximity to services. ”
During a presentation of the report and analysis to a joint government board meeting of officials from the City, Bernalillo County and Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) government officials and community activists, officials from the Family and Community Services Department emphasized that even though 3 sites have now been identified, all the details have yet to be worked out for any one and the final site selection is far from over. Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director for Housing and Homelessness emphasized that there is a chance the city creates multiple smaller shelters at different locations and keeps the West Side location open for overflow purposes.
City officials have said ground breaking is targeted for the summer of 2021 with starting operations in the spring of 2022.
Complete news coverage can be found at the below links:
On November 5, voters approved general obligation bonds of $14 million for a city operated 24-7 homeless shelter that will house upwards of 300. The actual cost will be $30 million and the City asked the 2020 New Mexico Legislature for the additional $14 million to complete phase two of the project, but the funding request failed.
City Hall has deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week temporarily shelter for the homeless as critical toward reducing the number of homeless in the city. The city owned shelter is projected to assist an estimated 300 homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility would serve all populations, men, women, and families.
The city facility would have on-site case managers that will guide residents toward addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. According city officials, the new homeless shelter will replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side.
The goal is for the new homeless shelter to provide first responders an alternative destination for the people they encounter on so-called “down-and-out” calls. Many “down and outs” today wind up in the emergency room even when they are not seriously injured or ill. According to city officials, in a recent one-year period, only 110 of 6,952 “down and out” people were taken by first responders to the Emergency Room with life-threatening conditions.
CITY SURVEY LOCATIONS
Initially, the City revealed 5 potential locations for the centralized emergency shelter for the homeless:
1.The old Lovelace Hospital on Gibson
2.University of New Mexico property near Lomas and Interstate 25
3.Montessa Park, south of the Sunport
4.An area near Second and Interstate 40
5.Continue to use the old West Side Jail 20 miles outside the city limits and build new facilities at that location.
Early in December, 2019 The Keller Administration set up an online survey that people were able to give input on where the 24-7 city homeless shelter should be built. There were only two specific places on the survey where the $30 million homeless shelter was being suggested to go. Those two areas were the area of 2nd Street at I-40 near downtown and a large empty lot that borders the UNM Health Sciences Center.
The survey results showed the community overwhelmingly wants the shelter to prioritize and have on-site mental health and substance abuse counseling. Further, survey respondents felt that the city needs to consider how to minimize the shelter’s impact on neighborhoods with 81% of respondents checking “appropriate public safety presence” and 67% saying on-site security needs to be included at the shelter.
DETAILS ON THE THREE TOP LOCATIONS
Following are details of the 3 locations with analysis that made the city’s initial cut:
According to the report released by the City on February 27, building the new shelter at Coronado would cost a total of $12.7 million. The city would need to buy abutting land, which may include office space across from the park, to have enough space.
The overwhelming number of those who completed the on line city survey chose the Interstate 40 and 2nd street location as the best area for the shelter with upwards of 31% of the respondents saying the area was the best location. The area is in the same general vicinity as Coronado Park, a city park that has attracted for years many homeless people and those that feed the homeless. The city uses the park as a pickup location for those needing rides to the West Side shelter. No other location site received even half of the number of votes.
For decades, Coronado Park has become an “encampment” or one of the most popular places for the homeless to congregate during the day and sleep at night. Many times, over the years, charitable organizations or “good Samaritans” have set up “food lines” for the homeless at Coronado Park. City and zoning health inspectors have been dispatched repeatedly to the park to try and curb the serving of hot food in the area in order to curtail potential health risk to the homeless and feeding them tainted food. At one time the American Civil Liberties Union even threatened to take action against the city over its efforts to curtail serving hot food to the homeless at Coronado Park.
Marit Tully, the president of the Near North Valley Neighborhood Association said at Thursday’s meeting that Coronado Park has seen major problem over the years due to the park’s existing concentration of people who are homeless. The neighborhood area she was referring to is located north of the freeway. Tully said area residents have for years raised concerns with the city, but the city has made s little improvement. According to Telly, her neighborhood association could not support any shelter site unless the city invests just as much in the chosen neighborhood.
Police over the years have been dispatched over and over to take action against the homeless at Coronado Park. The use of Coronado Park by the general public is scant or significantly curtailed. To succeed at the Coronado Park location and to have the lowest impact to the area would require sufficient safety precautions including security fencing and law enforcement or security surveillance of the area. The advantage is that the City owns the land and the location is far enough from the down town area to reduce impact to downtown and residential areas. The freeway still would act as a buffer to businesses north of it.
UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER
According to the city’s report and analysis, the UNM land would be free and development cost would be $12.4 million. The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center laboratory area tied for second place in the city’s on line survey receiving 15% of the vote. UNM Health Services confirmed a few months ago in a statement released that they were talking with city officials so they can be part of the solution. Following is the statement released:
“The University of New Mexico has been in discussions with the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County on the best ways to address the needs of the homeless population in our community. In those discussions, the possibility of utilizing currently vacant land near the office of the medical investigator/state lab has been mentioned. Nothing has been decided and you will see from the survey that other locations are being considered.
Our mission at UNM Health Sciences is to treat every New Mexican with the highest level of care possible. Being part of the solution to address the mental health, substance use disorder and housing needs of residents goes to the heart of that mission. It is not enough to just treat those who enter our emergency department, we must invest in comprehensive, compassionate care. Partnering with local governments ensures we continue to deliver more to those in need.”
University of New Mexico leaders have sent mixed messaged on whether UNM land should be considered for the shelter. Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center and chief executive officer of the UNM Health System, did say previously there are several advantages to using the UNM land for the homeless shelter including proximity to health and behavioral health facilities that are a critical part of the proposed shelter.
UNM’s Campus Safety Council, which consists of the dean of students, student body president, chief of university police and others, voted overwhelmingly in January to recommend to UNM officials and regents not to allow the shelter anywhere at UNM. According to UNM’s Campus Safety Council the facility will create a dangerous situation for students, burden campus police and hurt the university’s enrollment which has been on the decline the past 3 years.
UNM President Garnett Stokes has made it clear that no decision has been made. Stokes has said that she will keeping an open mind about the proposal, and will gather input from the campus community and others before making a recommendation to the Board of Regents.
LOVELACE HOSPITAL COMPLEX ON GIBSON
According to the report and analysis released by the city, the Lovelace Hospital Complex would be $14 million in acquisition and renovation costs.
Although the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson was not listed in the on line survey, 42 people who took the survey wrote it in as an option. It was not listed on the survey because the city did not have permission from the building’s owners to list it.
It was in 2007 Lovelace Medical Center closed down. It was later purchased by local private investors. The investors who purchased the former Lovelace Hospital on Gibson were Jimmy Daskalos and Nick Kapnison. Nick Kapnison is one of the owners of “Nick and Jimmy’s” Restaurant, Mikinos Creek Restaurant and Papa Fillipes. Mr. Nick Kapnison is a highly respected businessman and community activist.
The Albuquerque Journal recently reported that Nick Kapnison donated $3,500 to Mayor Keller’s Charitable Foundation. The Charitable Foundation has raised $250,000 from private donors for city initiatives. The Mayor’s Charitable Foundation recently gave the City $20,000 to provide additional housing vouchers for the homeless. The link to the Journal report on the donations is here:
The Loveless facility is a 529,000-square-foot building and upwards of 50% of it is said to be vacant. According to one news report, an estimated $10 million in upgrades in the Lovelace Hospital Complex, including remodeling for specific tenants, improving common areas and the parking lot and installing a 540-ton cooling unit out back were made. Parts of the building date back to 1950 and what was then known as the Lovelace Clinic, and as a result the need for any asbestos remediation is subject to speculation and has not been reported on by the news media.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Since assuming office as mayor on December 1, 2017, Tim Keller has said that a 24-hour, 7 day a week facility to temporarily shelter the homeless within the city is critical toward reducing the number of homeless in the city. Mayor Keller actively campaigned for voters to approve $14 million in general obligation bonds of for the homeless shelter that has an actual cost of $30 million.
During last year’s 2019 legislative session, the city sought $28 million for the Gateway project. The legislature funded only $985,000 last year for construction costs. This year Mayor Keller sought $14 million from the New Mexico legislature in state funding for the “Gateway Center” homeless to match $14 million that city voters approved in the last bond election. The 2020 legislature refused to fund the project.
With only $14 million in place, the city only has enough to complete the first phase of the project. The city will now have to find funding elsewhere within the city budget or wait another year to ask for funding in the 2021 legislative session.
The City of Albuquerque has an operating budget of $1.1 billion for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2019 and ends on June 30, 2020. It was the first time in city history that the city operating budget exceeded the $1 Billion figure. The 2019-2020 budget represented an overall 11% increase in spending over the previous year. On April 1, 2020, the Keller Administration will be releasing the 2020-2021 proposed city budget for review, public hearings and final approval by the City Council. It will be interesting if Mayor Keller will be including the additional $14 million to complete the “Gateway Center” Homeless Shelter.
The Keller Administration did say that although 3 locations have been identified, the city’s site selection is ongoing and new locations continue to emerge. Included in the process will be a fiscal analysis of each site and determining the financial limitations to complete the project. Each site under serious consideration will require a financial analysis, including land acquisition cost, before the Keller Administration makes any final recommendations to the City Council.
There is no doubt as the debate rages on where to put the Keller 24-7 City Homeless Shelter, there is a likelihood a large segment of the voting public will get upset, no matter how necessary the shelter is needed. Keller wants to break ground for the new shelter in the summer of 2021 which is when the race for Mayor begins to heat up, which is what happened with the ART Bus construction project.
Many will be watching exactly what is Mayor Tim Keller’s preferred location for the shelter which is the location likely the City Council will adopt. If not handled properly by building a consensus, Mayor Tim Keller will be adding the location of the 24-7 city homeless shelter location he has advocated since being elected to the list of issues that could conceivably divide large segments of the city and deprive him of a second term.