On Tuesday, April 6, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference in front of the Gibson Medical Center to officially announce the city has bought the massive complex and will transform it into a Gateway Center for the homeless. In making the announcement, Keller had this to say:
“The City of Albuquerque has officially bought the Gibson Medical Center, the cornerstone of our Gateway Center network. In total, this represents the largest capital investment that Albuquerque has ever made for the unhoused. We have roughly 5,000 homeless people.
This challenge [of homelessness] is huge. And we know this challenge has gotten way worse during the pandemic. For us, this is about actually doing something. Not just talking about it, not just discussing it, not just harping about the details. This is about action. … This is never meant to be permanent. It’s meant to be a gateway to services that can then lead to people enabling and changing their lives.
It depends how you count them, it depends what you call them, unhoused, homeless, unsheltered, folks in need. At the end of the day, we know we need at least 500 more beds and that’s even more than this whole facility can handle. … .”
We also know that our administration believes in experimenting … We’re going to experiment and find out what works best over time. …
“And so really what we’re looking at here is to move past this question of where … No matter how you feel about it, we’ve answered that question.”
Keller was asked about funding and had this to say:
“So we’re going to work with our partners, so the Healthcare for the Homeless, HopeWorks, Heading Home and others, Barrett House, and also a lot of the faith based community … Out of that $21 million, you just subtract the $15 million for the purchase price, and that’s what’s on the table for everything that you mentioned, including community supports and services, fencing, all of the different things that we may need. And that’s really the goal of the summer and the fall.
When asked for a breakdown of the funding sources, Keller said:
“That’s a good , there’s a lot of [sources]. A million from the County, $14 million from the voters and city council, the state totals we’re still totaling up. So we’ll say probably a hair under a million, I think when we add it all up from the state. We also got some money from the Governor, I think it was $900,000 two years ago in that session, and so those are roughly the streams that we’re looking at. But I would mention there’s also flexible stimulus money that we got at the city and county level, so that’s another thing we may use that may be more for programming. And then there’s also half a million from those companies I mentioned, PNM and New Mexico Mutual and others.
Yes and of course for operating remember, from a budget perspective we have to fully fund operations, and so we put in $4.7 million to operate the facility. But what you don’t see in the budget is that’s offset by the revenue we get. So there’s about $1.9 million in revenue. So again, we’ll look at this as a facility to eventually, we hope, to almost break even, once we get all the leases out. So that’s what this has the potential for, which is awesome. But those are different accounts, so you have to sort of budget for it, and then that gets reimbursed with the lease income.
The link to the Keller April 6 press conference is here:
During the April 6 news conference, Keller said the facility is already home to some behavioral health services, will be an “experiment” in how best to help hundreds of Albuquerque’s homeless population.
The Homeless Coordinating Council, which has representation from city, county and behavioral health representatives has said it is necessary to move forward with the project. For the past 6 months, a 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.
According to city officials, Gibson complex will be a new place to stay for the homeless in the area. Currently, the city uses the old West Side jail as a Homeless Shelter and issues vouchers to use area hotels for some homeless. The city intends to use the Gibson complex for homeless in other areas of the city such as downtown and Nob Hill and plan to use the Community Support Shuttle to transport them.
On Tuesday, April 13, the Bernalillo County Commission will be voting on contributing $1 million to the purchase and renovations for the Gateway Center. The mayor did not give an exact date when the Gateway Center would open. In the 2021-2022 proposed budget, it will cost nearly $5 million per year to run.
The State of New Mexico has been leasing the Gibson Medical Facility for $8.6 million a year as an overflow hospital for COVID-19 patients. Keller’s decision to transition the Gibson Medical Center Complex into homeless housing comes nearly 2 years after Keller campaigned for and voters approved $14 million for a 24/7 homeless center.
After his April 6 press conference, Mayor Keller came under severe criticism for his failure to reach a consensus and take community input before the Gibson Medical Center was purchased. Keller said he plans to confer with residents in the future. However, Keller made it clear either way, like it or not, the site has now been selected and the Gibson Medical facility will be used to service the homeless population as a Gateway Center.
Residents who live in the area say it will only cause more problems for them. in the area. Tony Lopez, a resident of nearby Siesta Hills neighborhood had this to say:
“I just don’t think it was fair that it was thrown onto us without getting any input or allowing us to hear about it or allowing us to say something about it. It’s really frustrating for us because we already have an issue here at the present moment and they’ve got to find a better place which is away from neighborhoods.”
Other residents think the facility should be used on a smaller scale to service a few dozen women and children, rather than a few hundred people. The biggest worry is that the Gibson facility will in fact be converted to “mega-shelter” as was originally proposed by Keller and that it will impact the neighborhood.
Tamaya Toulouse, who also lives in the Siesta Hills neighborhood had this to say:
“There’s a lot of people that say, ‘not in my backyard’ but can say, ‘yes we need homeless help.’ The problem comes when the mayor put out the survey asking residents where should this go, what are the services we need, what are the qualifications. … If we’re going to house and train and help the homeless, it has to be in a responsible way with an actual plan and that’s what we’re asking for. A plan that has community input that they actually have to take into account.”
PROTESTS ERRUPT AFTER KELLER GIVES NEIGHBORHOODS “MIDDLE FINGER”
City representatives said community engagement is key to the success of the project. However, Mayor Keller and the city reached out to every neighborhood association in the area only after securing the Gibson Medical Facility. One result of the after the fact purchase outreach was protests.
On Friday, April 9, neighbors who feel they have been ignored and overlooked in the planning process and being asked to shoulder too big of a burden protested near the site. Some held signs with the messages:
“NO INPUT, NO INFO, NO FAITH IN GATEWAY”
“KELLER LIES ABOUT SIZE”
“I VOTED FOR A SUBSTATION AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY MEGA SHELTER”
“KELLER NEVER ASKED US”
“GATEWAY = KELLER’S ART”
“KELLER NEVER ASKED US”
“MAYOR KELLER, NO MORE DISRESPECT”
Some of the protesters said they’re okay with services to help the homeless and housing families and children. They want far more communication and input with the city to find a way to work together and in particular want a smaller shelter.
Area resident Dee Whitefield put it this way:
“I thought that’s what Mayor Keller was going to do. He said there’s going to be small shelters, and I thought ‘great, that’ll be manageable, we’ll have services here.”
Those who live nearby said they had been ignored for years and felt the need to speak out. Those who live in the neighborhoods nearby agree they want to help the homeless, but not like this.
Tony Johnson, who lives near the Gibson complex said he’s experienced homelessness himself, and had this to say:
“You’re not going to do that in our backyard, the way you wanna do it. … You need to talk to us first. I know what it is, but you’re not going to do something over here 24/7 and continue to affect our children and our schools and our community”.
Area resident Ivan Wiener, who participated in the protest said:
“I think there’s definitely middle ground, we have already told the city that we agree with people needing services, but it can’t be more than 50 to 70 beds in this place.”
Tamaya Toulouse who also lives near the Gibson complex, said she supports the city offering housing. However, she, and others, don’t trust the city to keep its promises, especially after spending decades revitalizing their neighborhoods.
She had this to say:
“If we’ve got 300 behavioral health folks here all day long – during the daytime spilling out into the streets with nowhere to go will further disenfranchise the southeast heights and that’s been going on for four decades too long already.”
Raven Green, who lives in the Elder Homestead Neighborhood had this to say:
“Over the last five or six years, [our area] has declined. It’s become unsafe. The crime is rampant.”
Toulouse and Green both say the Gibson Medical Center does not fit the certain criteria announced for the Gateway project, including walkability, access to employment, and a central location. Toulouse said:
“What does it need to have to be effective? Good transportation lines that Gibson line for buses is not anywhere in the middle of the city. “
Raven Green added:
“It’s concerning for everyone and people that live here, and the people that are going to be putting themselves in a vulnerable position going to the city, to try and get help.”
Vera Watson, a resident of nearby Parkland Hills neighborhood, said the city has too big of a concentration of social services in Southeast Albuquerque. Watson believes it contributes to crime. Watson said she voted for the bond question that generated $14 million for the Gateway Center and that she supports additional services for people who are homeless. However, she feels the city has neglected the surrounding neighborhoods while advancing the project. Watson said bluntly:
“I just think the mayor gave us his middle finger”.
According to one city official, the city has only now invited citizen input and will engage Gibson-area residents specifically. The city has already begun trying to schedule neighborhood meetings for late April.
CONDITIONAL USE APPLICATION REQUIRED
The zoning for the Gibson Medical Center facility does allow an overnight shelter but only as a “conditional use,” something the city can, and probability will need to pursue by application. The City could decide to unilaterally fill the facility with the original 300 beds as proposed for the original 24 – 7 homeless shelter facility and make the application. The facility has a 201-bed capacity, but remodeling could likely increase capacity significantly to at least 300 beds as was originally envisioned for the Gateway center.
It is the City of Albuquerque Planning and Zoning Department that enforces the City’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The Planning Department has within it a Zoning Hearing Examiner (ZHE) filing and adjudication process. The Zoning Hearing Examiner conducts monthly quasi-judicial public hearings regarding special exceptions to the Integrated Development Ordinance. Once application for a zone change or special use is made, the city must give notice to all surrounding neighborhood associations, residents and business owners and conduct hearings.
The Zoning Hearing Officer makes the decision to approve or disapprove the conditional use. The decision of the Zoning Officer can be appealed to “Land Use Planning, and Zoning Committee” (LUPZ). The LUPZ is a committee of 5 made up of city residents appointed by the Mayor who volunteer their time. Their decisions are subject to appeal to the City Council.
A “special exception” allows a property to be developed and used in a way that is different from what the zoning of the property allows. Special exceptions include variances, conditional uses, and expansions of nonconforming uses or structures. After a special exception application is filed, all interested parties, surrounding neighborhoods and businesses must be given the opportunity to participate in a public hearing. All requests are given formal hearings. The Zoning Hearing Examiner will render a determination of approval, approval with conditions, or denial within 15 days after the close of the public hearing. Determinations can be appealed to City Council through the Land Use Hearing Officer.
The City’s “Comprehensive City Zoning Code defines CONDITIONAL USE as follows:
“One of those uses enumerated as conditional uses in a given zone. Such uses require individual approval on a given lot.
It is the burden of the applicant to ensure that there is such evidence in the record. The city can approve a conditional use only if the evidence presented to the record shows that the proposed use meets the following criteria:
(a) Will not be injurious to the adjacent property, the neighborhood, or the community;
(b) Will not be significantly damaged by surrounding structures or activities.”
“Conditional use” zoning often generates controversy and oppositions and require a public hearing. Conditional uses are granted only if there are no significant adverse impacts to surrounding areas, but immediate and irreparable harm is difficult to prove before a development or zone change is adopted.
KELLER ABANDONS SINGLE GATEWAY CENTER CONCEPT
It was on Wednesday, May 7, 2020, Mayor Tim Keller said that the city was abandoning the development concept of a single, 300-bed homeless shelter. The city owned shelter was intended 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.
In his May 7 announcement, Keller said the city would 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”. Keller said the corona virus crisis has highlighted the need for an alternative to the city’s existing shelter, which is the former jail 20 miles from downtown. :
The link to the press conference is here:
When the city abandoned plans to build one large homeless shelter, city officials said the new multi-site approach could mean a series of “smaller facilities” throughout the community. Ostensibly, there would be no single resource hub in one large facility as was originally proposed with the 300 bed Gateway Center.
City Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce offered insight into what the city means when it refers to small shelters and had this to say:
“We’re often talking 100 to 150 beds of emergency shelter that could be defined as a smaller shelter.”
City officials have also said the tentative strategy includes 150 to 175 standard shelter beds to accommodate men, women and families, plus 25 to 50 medical recovery beds.
Critics are saying 150-175 beds is way too big.
Siesta Hills neighborhood resident Anne White said she’s also concerned about making Gibson a 24/7 operation and the activity that could generate. She said she is hopeful the city will reconsider putting such a large operation in Southeast Albuquerque and said:
“We feel there are plenty of other spaces [available to do this]”
CITY BUYS LOVELACE HOSPITAL COMPLEX ON GIBSON
In an attempt to buy the first Gateway location, the city made an offer to buy the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson Boulevard in Southeast Albuquerque for $13 million. On February 18, 2021 it was reported that the Keller Administration agreed to pay another $2 million to buy the former Lovelace hospital for its long-awaited Gateway Center. The settlement raised the total purchase price to $15 million and resolved the city’s involvement with the litigation over the property’s ownership.
The link to the news story reporting on the settlement is here:
MASSIVE COMPLEX NOW KNOW AS GIBSON MEDICAL CENTER
It was in 2007 Lovelace Medical Center closed down. It was later purchased by local private investors . The complex was renamed the Gibson Medical Center. The 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 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 by investor owners. Parts of the building date back to 1950 and as a result the need for any asbestos remediation is subject to speculation and has not been reported on by the news media.
Current tenants include 5 drug rehabilitation and counseling services and 1 kidney dialysis firm. The 6 tenants are:
TURQUOISE LODGE HOSPITAL (New Mexico Health Department)
Turquoise Lodge hospital provides substance abuse treatment services to New Mexico residents. It specializes in medical detoxification, social rehabilitation services, and Intensive Outpatient services. Priority patients for services include pregnant injecting drug users, pregnant substance abusers, other injecting drug users, women with dependent children, and women and men seeking to regain custody of their children.
SHADOW MOUNTAIN RECOVERY CENTER
Shadow Mountain Intensive Outpatient Treatment Center is an addiction treatment program. Patients participate in a 12-Step Alternative program with additional psychotherapy, depending on their personal needs. Each individual’s treatment is tailored to promote long-lasting recovery. It provides safe, effective treatment solutions for those struggling with addiction, prescription pill dependency, and substance abuse; with and without co-occurring mental health disorders. It provides tools that build a foundation of lifelong sobriety. Its programs are built utilizing evidence-based treatment modalities and compassionate professionals who are invested in their patients.
HAVEN OF ALBUQUERQUE BEHAVIORAL HEALTH HOSPITAL
Haven Behavioral Hospital of Albuquerque is an inpatient program designed to provide intensive, highly structured treatment for mental illness, mood disorders and substance abuse issues in a safe, controlled environment. It treat adults age 18 and over who are struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, personality disorders and many other illnesses. Our addiction treatment services include alcohol abuse, illegal drug addiction and prescription drug abuse. Patients admitted to Haven Behavioral Hospital of Albuquerque receive 24-hour supervised treatment and support for mental health conditions and substance abuse. Mental illness and addiction often go hand in hand, so it offers treatment for dual diagnosis and co-occurring conditions simultaneously.
AMG SPECIALTY HOSPITAL
AMG Specialty Hospital is a 25 Bed Long Term Acute Care hospital that specializes in the management of complex medical needs. AMG Specialty Hospital specializes in acute care for complex patients that require extended hospital stays for full recovery. Some of the medical conditions treated include: ventilator weaning, respiratory failure, chronic non-healing wounds, complicated infections, surgical complications, cardiac complications, nutritional management, closed-head injury, rehabilitation with complications, and other medically complex patients.
STATE OF NEW MEXICO DIVISION OF VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION (NMDVR)
The purpose of the NMDVR is to help people with disabilities achieve a suitable employment outcome aimed at helping individuals over age 16 with disabilities secure and retain employment that is in line with their abilities and interests. . Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a State and Federally funded program designed to help eligible individuals with documented disabilities find suitable employment. VR is a voluntary program, and services persons who want to work. With a long history of success and proven methodology for making the best fits, time and again, DVR is committed to helping out clients succeed. In addition, we partner with companies and agencies seeking opportunities to enhance and diversify their workforce.
FRESENIUS KINDNEY CARE
Fresenius Kidney Care offers dialysis treatment, resources, recipes and support for individuals living with chronic kidney disease.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
When it comes to city projects and programs, the term “NIMBY” stands for “Not In My Back Yard”. It describes opposition to proposed projects by home owners, property owners, and business owners. Three of the biggest issues that generate public outcry are the location of methadone clinics, homeless shelters and adult amusement businesses. Mayor Keller’s desire to build a 24-hour, 7 day a week city built and run homeless shelter is a case of NIMBY, but it is a problem he actually created and brought upon himself.
The Gibson Medical Center is a massive complex of well over half a million square feet. It not only includes a hospital bed capacity of 200 beds but has operating rooms, waiting areas, lab areas, treatment area and offices that can be easily converted into more bed capacity. The facility also has a lecture auditorium.
Many who reside in the surrounding neighborhoods of the Gibson Medical Center have said they supported and voted for the $15 million bonds to build the Gateway center and fully agree that the city should provide more services to the homeless. The biggest worry is that the Gibson facility will in fact be converted to “mega-shelter” as was originally proposed by Keller and what he wanted and it will impact the neighborhood if that happens.
THERE ARE 3 OPTIONS
Neighborhood residents now feel betrayed by Mayor Tim Keller. Had Keller reached out to the neighborhoods before the city bought the property, its likely things could have been worked out with them. Area residents have every right to think the facility should be used on a smaller scale to service a few dozen women and children, rather than a few hundred people and it’s a concession the city should make.
Area residents are now faced with 3 options:
1. Aggressively oppose any attempt by the Keller Administration to secure a conditional use for the Gibson complex from the Zoning Hearing Officer, appeal the decision approving the conditional use by the hearing officer to “Land Use Planning, and Zoning Committee” (LUPZ) and appeal that decision to the Albuquerque City Council if need be to stop the conditional use.
2. Go to court and seek injunctive relief or try to have the facility declared a nuisance that poises and immediate threat to health and safety and reduces property values.
3. Seek mediation and negotiate a stipulated written agreement on long term use of the Gibson facility. With this third option, Keller could conceivably salvage what’s left of his credibility with the surrounding neighborhoods. Mediation would require Keller to meet with the neighborhood stake holders in a binding mediation conference to discuss what concessions he and the city are willing to make to satisfy their legitimate concerns in exchange for their agreement to approve and support the project. The City and the neighborhood representatives would enter into a formal stipulated written agreement to avoid litigation.
Such stipulated agreements at one time were very common when the Safe City Strike Force existed to deal with nuisance properties that were magnets for crime and abatement actions taken against property owners by the city.
Mayor Tim Keller is now perceived as mishandling the site selection process for the shelter, especially with his press conference where he essentially gloats and says the location has been decided upon, end of discussion, to bad, so sad, so get over it. Keller failed to build true consensus on what the city should do and where the shelter should go. It was sure arrogance and his penchant for news coverage on the part of Mayor Keller when he said “[We are] past this question of where … No matter how you feel about it, we’ve answered that question.” It was arrogance not to seek out and listen to those who will have to deal with his legacy project long after he is gone. Keller may be gone in 8 months if he loses his reelection bid or maybe in 4 years if he wins another term assuming he does not leave mid term as he has done twice before as a State Senator and then as State Auditor.
Many issues are beginning to come into focus for the 2021 Mayor’s race where Tim Keller has already made it known that he is running for a second term. Those issues include increased high violent high crime rates, failure to increase APD sworn to 1,200 as promised, failure to implement community policing, failure to implement Department of Justice consent decree reforms, increasing taxes without voter approval, reduced city services, the Mayor’s managing of the city’s response to corona virus and the city’s nonexistent economic development efforts.
Mayor Tim Keller has now added the location of the 24-7 city homeless shelter to the list of the many other issues that will divide large segments of the city and that may deprive him of a second term. Too bad. The Gateway Center is very much needed project, but Keller’s failure to listen has now jeopardize a worthwhile project.
Links to all quoted news reports and source material are here: