Since being elected Mayor, Tim Keller has made it known that building a city operated homeless shelter is one of his top priorities. Keller deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week temporarily shelter for the homeless critical towards reducing the number of homeless in the city. The city owned shelter was projected to assist an estimated 300 homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility would have served all populations of men, women, and families. Further, the city wanted to provide a place anyone could go regardless of gender, religious affiliation, sobriety, addictions, psychotic condition or other factors.
The city facility was to have on-site case managers that would guide residents toward counseling, addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. According city officials, the new homeless shelter would replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side. The west side facility is unsustainable costing over $1 million in transportation costs a year for the homeless. The goal was for the new homeless shelter to provide first responders an alternative destination for the people they encounter known as the “down-and-out” calls.
Notwithstanding Mayor Keller’s desire for a city run shelter, there were many critics of the proposal. The critics included downtown business organizations such as the Greater Albuquerque Business Association (GABA) and neighborhood associations that mounted strong opposition. Critics argued against mixing populations and argued that a large facility would unduly burden any one neighborhood or business area of the city. Bernalillo County officials, homeless service providers and residents of neighborhoods surrounding potential locations seriously questioned the city’s efforts for a one centralized shelter.
FUNDING APPROVED BY VOTERS; SITES SELECTED
On November 5, voters approved a general obligation bond package of $128 million which included $14 million for the city operated 24-7 homeless shelter. The actual cost was to be $32 million. The City asked the 2020 New Mexico Legislature for an additional $14 million to complete phase two of the project, but the funding request failed.
In December, the Albuquerque City Council approved Keller’s request to hire an architect to design a 300-bed shelter.
On February 27, the City of Albuquerque released a report and analysis announcing the top 3 preferred locations for the new 24/7 Gateway homeless shelter. The 3 locations were:
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
On Friday, February 28, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference with local church leaders at the vacant strip of University of New Mexico land and made it clear that the UNM cite was his preferred cite. It was not meant to be. Keller’s press conference was viewed by the University of New Mexico Community as a guilt trip tactic to shame the higher education institution in providing the location free of charge.
On March 12, the University of New Mexico announced it was no longer interested in offering the empty lot they own off the I-25 Frontage Road for consideration as the possible site for the Gateway Center.
Mayor Tim Keller for his part issued the following statement about UNM’s decision:
“For all our public institutions, there is a moral opportunity to come together and make a difference on a growing problem that affects the entire community. With this option now off the table, we are convening elected officials from the City and [Bernalillo] County, as well as UNM, to work with us on the remaining options, or a possible combination of sites. We are continuing our collaborative efforts and are also dedicated to doing all we can with the funds we have to make a dent in all of our homelessness challenges.”
UNM’s March announcement that it would not provide the location resulted in Keller creating a “working group” as he called it for a “regrouping” phase.
KELLER ABANDONS GATEWAY CENTER CONCEPT
On Wednesday, May 7, Mayor Tim Keller conducted one of his daily briefings on the City’s response to the Corona Virus. He dedicated most of the briefing to report on the “Gateway Center.” Participating in the briefing were City Council President Pat Davis, County Commissioner Jim Collie and the city’s Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael.
The FACEBOOK video link to the press briefing is here:
In a surprise announcement, Keller said that the city for now is abandoning the development concept of a single, 300-bed homeless shelter. He announced the city will be proceeding with a “multi-site approach” to the city’s homelessness crisis. Mayor Tim Keller went so far as to state that the 300 bed Gateway Center was “off the table”.
For the past few months, the working group has been meeting regularly with the goal to reach a collective decision on how best to tackle both the city and county’s homeless problem. According to Keller, the City, Bernalillo County Commission, the University of New Mexico Hospital along with homeless service providers are pursuing other strategies to serve the upwards of 5,000 persons a year who are homeless in the city and county each year.
Keller said during a media briefing said:
“We are, I think, in a regrouping phase, but one I think is in many ways better with an eye toward a comprehensive solution and with an eye toward collaboration.”
Mayor Keller had made it known he wanted to start construction on the Gateway Center this winter. Now there is no clear timeline on the construction any type of facility because the shift in strategy and because of the corona virus pandemic. Notwithstanding, Mayor Keller made it clear that the corona pandemic will not stop the city from developing some version of a Gateway Center plan.
Keller said the virus crisis has highlighted the need for an alternative to the city’s existing shelter, which is the former jail 20 miles from downtown and he said:
“The coronavirus has also shown us how important this is. … The amount of funding and logistics we have to deal with going back and forth to the West Side … is extremely hard.”
According to Mayor Keller the working group is open to a “multi-site” model. Such a model could still involve using the Lovelace Hospital or Coronado Park sites. The difference is no 300-bed facility would be built. Smaller facilities of between 50 to 100 scale would be considered along with other locations throughout the city. Regardless of the final strategy adopted by the working group, the $14 million approved by city voters is enough to move forward with a project, no doubt scaled back and at different locations.
During the May 7 press briefing, Mayor Keller said:
“Costs go up the more sites you have, by definition; however, we might be able to utilize some existing sites and existing facilities, which means costs can go down. … I think we’re all confident we have enough money for a Phase One concept as per what the voters voted on, but what that looks like and how big it is depends on what the working group will be doing this summer.”
City Council President Pat Davis, who is a member of the working group, said during the May 7 press briefing, that the goal is to have a “joint governance group” and would include subject-matter experts and multiple public agencies to decide together on the best path forward. According to Davis:
“This is exactly what we ought to be doing. … People want to see the city, the county and UNM and all the government working together.”
County Commissioner Jim Collie said during the May 7 press briefing that he and the other 4 members of the County Commission were pleased with the collaboration efforts by saying:
“We’re delighted to be involved in this process and believe that what we come out with is a product that will be amplified by our working together.”
Commissioner Collie said it was unclear whether the county would contribute financially to Gateway Center construction but that it will assuredly be involved in some way given its mandate to provide behavioral health services.
COUNTY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH TAX
On February 26, 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a 1/8 % gross receipts tax increase on a 3-2 vote to fund new behavioral and mental health services to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county. The tax generates approximately $20 million annually. When the Bernalillo County Commission approved the tax, it failed to develop a plan on how all the money would be used, including not identifying services to be provided, location of facilities and qualifiers to obtain the services offered.
When enacted, the county commission announced the intent for the tax was to invest the funding “in proven ways to better manage the high cost of addiction, homelessness and mental health problems”. According to a county commission announcement, “these issues impact families throughout the community and drive up the cost of public services, especially at the Metropolitan Detention Center.”
The gross receipts tax costs shoppers one cent on a $10 purchase of goods and services. Since enactment of the tax in 2015, the tax has generated $91.6 million. The county has spent $20 million of the money but has earmarked the bulk of what it amassed for one-time expenditures. Those expenditures include $30 million for a new crisis triage center, $12 million for supportive housing and $4 million for the Bernalillo County CARE campus, formerly known as the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services center, or MATS. The renovations to the CARE campus when complete will create an outpatient behavioral health clinic and living room space for peer-to-peer counseling sessions.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
When it comes to city projects the term “NIMBY” stands for “Not In My Back Yard”. It describes opposition to proposed projects by home owners, property owners, and business owners. Two of the biggest issues that generate public outcry are the location of methadone clinics and homeless shelters. Mayor Keller’s desire to build a 24-hour, 7 day a week, 300-person, city built and run homeless shelter is a case of NIMBY.
KELLER’S “SHAMING TACTICS” WERE MISTAKE
Mayor Keller made the political mistake of not listening to those who will have to deal with a centralized shelter long after he is gone as Mayor. Mayor Tim Keller is now perceived as mishandling the site selection process for the shelter, especially with his shaming, guilt trip press conference to force UNM’s hand, and his failing to build true consensus on what the city should do and where the shelter should go. Keller essentially had a survey performed to come up with 3 finalists and before all 3 could be fully vetted as the city promised, he made a decision as to his preference and people saw right through his tactics.
Soon after UNM made the announcement it was taking its land off the list, Mayor Keller announced he was creating a working group that includes UNM, county administrative leaders and elected officials to work out details on a site, design, construction, and operation for the Gateway Center. The working group of city, county, UNM and elected officials should have been done from the get-go. Keller wanted to go it alone seeking voter approved funding and even funding from the legislature that he failed to secure.
Keller has now said that he and the working group have decided to abandon the development concept of a single, 300-bed homeless shelter and proceed with a “multi-site approach”. The problem is that there is still the need for the city to operate a centralized 24-7 facility to target the most chronic of the homeless and connect them to other services and to help secure permanent housing.
THE NEED FOR CENTRALIZED LOCATION STILL EXISTS
The needs are still there:
1. There is still a need for a facility to serve populations of men, women, and families and to provide a place anyone can go regardless religious affiliation, sobriety, addiction or other factors, such as suffering from a psychotic event, that prevent the homeless from being eligible for services and assistance.
2. There is still a need for a centralized location to assist the homeless getting signed up for assistance such as EBT cards, Medicaid, interviews for housing options, and counseling and medical care and immediate medical care and treatment.
3. There is still a need for a triage center very close to UNMH where police can take people to other than to the emergency room at UNMH or to jail.
The 1/8th% county behavioral gross receipts tax is supposed to be used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area. The intent is to provide a safety net system for those in need of mental health not otherwise funded in New Mexico. After 5 years, the monies collected from the 1/8th% gross receipts behavioral tax, the lion’s share of the tax revenues remains in a bank account benefiting no one. The Gateway Center fits as originally proposed into the intent and purpose of the behavioral tax.
THE “ONE ALBUQUERQUE” SLOGAN MEANS “KELLER’S ALBUQUERQUE”
Keller will never admit it in public, but he essentially abandoned his efforts to continue with the Coronado Park and the former Lovelace Hospital locations because of the strong and coordinated opposition to both by many downtown businesses, business organizations, residents and neighborhood associations. The blunt truth is that Keller ignored them and they in turn reacted with hostility and turned on him. Following is a link to two very hostile guest columns regarding Keller published in the Albuquerque Journal opposing the Coronado Park and former Lovelace Hospital:
Keller has made it known he is seeking a second term in 2021. He no doubt now realizes that his push for the 300 person Gateway Center went too far for many and that he offended way too many voters. Keller, for all of his “One Albuquerque” slogan, failed to listen to the concerns of businesses, residents and other government entities who objected to the concept and to the 3 proposed locations. One elected official critic went so far as to say the “One Albuquerque” slogan means “Keller’s Albuquerque” because he thinks he has the only answers to the City’s homeless crisis.
A ROUGH ROAD OF OPPOSITION AHEAD
One thing is for certain. Keller is going to have to convince the Bernalillo County Commission to step up to the plate with funding for the “multi-site model” with at least matching funding from the county behavioral tax fund revenues. With Mayor Keller and the City faced with a $27 million dollar deficit and likely budget cuts because of the reduction in gross receipts tax revenues, the $14 million in voter approve bonds is likely all the city will have for the “multi-site model.”
Now that Mayor Keller and the working group have decided to go forward with a “multi-site model”, they need to realize that resistance will no doubt emerge and be just as great as to each site that will be considered by them. They also need to realize the need for a centralized facility, albeit not as big as a 300 facility, is still exists in one form or another.
It was very disappointing that newly appointed County Commissioner Jim Collie said it was unclear whether the county would contribute financially to Gateway Center construction. Collie was appointed by Governor Lujan Grisham and committed to serve only the remaining one year of a term. Collie will be leaving the commission on January 1, 2021 and be replaced by an elected commissioner. He has 7 months left to make a difference, and perhaps he can leave a lasting impression and push for matching funds from the county to the city’s $14 million for the “multi-site” model.
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