“I may have promised, but I never gave no firm commitment.”
Former three term Governor Bruce King to NM legislator when King withdrew his support on legislation the legislator was sponsoring
While running for Mayor and 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.
On November 5, 2020 voters approved a general obligation bond package of $128 million which included $14 million for the city operated 24-7 homeless shelter.
ABANDONMENT OF SINGLE GATEWAY HOMELESS SHELTER
On Wednesday, May 7, 2020, Mayor Tim Keller conducted one of his daily briefings on the City’s response to the Corona Virus. In a surprise announcement, Keller said that the city was 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”.
When Keller 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 BUYS GIBSON MEDICAL CENTER FOR $15 MILLION
On Tuesday, April 6, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference in front of the Gibson Medical Center, formerly the Lovelace Hospital, to officially announce the city had bought the massive 572,000 square-foot building that currently has a 201 bed capacity, for $15 million. The facility will be transformed into a Gateway Center for the homeless. In making the announcement, Keller said in part:
“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. … 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 .”
After his April 6 press conference, 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 planned to confer with residents in the future. 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.
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”
ABQ JOURNAL GUEST OPINION COLUMN
Since February 2018, Carol Pierce has been the city’s Director of the Family and Community Services Department appointed by Mayr Tim Keller. She earned her RN diploma from the Presbyterian School of Nursing, has an undergraduate degree from the University of Denver and earned her Master’s degree from the University of New Mexico. Ms. Pierce has more than 30 years of experience working in the health field in the public and private sectors in New Mexico. She was the Manager for the School-Based Health Center Program at the University of New Mexico, Department of Pediatrics. Ms. Pierce also spent more than a decade as a health care provider and administrator, including 9 years at Presbyterian Healthcare Services.
On Sunday, June 13, the Albuquerque Journal published a guest column from Pierce. In it, she makes a number of clarifications and promises regarding the Gateway Center. For that reason, the article merits publication.
Following is the Pierce ABQ Journal guest column in full with the link:
“GATEWAY WON’T BE A GIANT EMERGENCY SHELTER”
“With needed health resources, and as one of the multiple sites, Gibson shelter part of the City’s high-impact strategy”
“Homelessness has been in the Albuquerque spotlight for years, and the city is committed to building a system of care with community partners and working together toward solutions.
As a step toward that goal, the city purchased Gibson Medical Center (GMC) in April, building on its long history as a health hub for the community. We are expanding health services for the community and adding a Gateway Center to provide trauma-informed shelter and supportive services to those experiencing homelessness.
We continue to reach out to neighborhoods surrounding GMC and are hosting community input meetings. It’s important to address misconceptions and set the record straight about the GMC:
1) The 572,000 square feet facility will not be transformed into a giant emergency shelter with 500 beds. It will continue to serve as a health hub with existing tenants and be expanded to provide needed health resources in our community. The Gibson Health Hub will include a Gateway Center component to connect shelter participants to services and housing through individualized transition plans.
2) The city has not abandoned the dispersed shelter model in favor of a single, large shelter. The existing dispersed shelter model will continue and the Gibson Health Hub, including the Gateway Center, will add another piece to that system.
3) While medical respite for people who are unhoused will be one of the services offered at the Gibson Health Hub, this isn’t the same as shelter. Albuquerque has limited availability of medical respite beds and needs more. This is a good example of investing in services that save money down the line. Medical respite beds will provide a place for people to recover from surgeries or injuries that aren’t severe enough be hospitalized for but are too serious for them to be discharged to the street or taken care of in a shelter.
4) The city will work with community nonprofit organizations, as we already do, to operate the shelter, medical respite and support services – creating jobs in the community.
5) The Gateway Center is not a replacement for affordable housing, supportive housing or other community resources. Housing and support options are critical to helping those who come to the facility to transition into housing.
We know this Gateway Center won’t solve the issue of homelessness in Albuquerque, and this is not the end of the road – it’s another step that will expand the system of care for our unhoused neighbors. The city continues to invest in these priorities through $29.6 million in social services contracts with local partners that provide shelter and behavioral health services, along with rental assistance and case management to attain and retain housing. Our annual investment in supportive housing increased by 44% since FY18. More affordable housing will be made available through $11 million in the Workforce Housing Trust Fund and on top of the $5.4 million spent in FY21 to build/renovate affordable housing. Recently, a $21.6 million investment for emergency rental assistance added new support for landlords and tenants to keep people who are in danger of losing their homes.
This administration is making bold decisions to create change. Voters gave a clear mandate. The decision to move forward at GMC was not done in a vacuum and was the result of working on high-impact strategies with the Homeless Coordinating Council – comprised of CABQ, Bernalillo County, UNM and many community partners who sat on committees to dig into the work. Unfortunately, one of our partners, Hopeworks, which receives $3.5 million in funding from the city for supportive housing, didn’t participate much and now seems to be only interested in criticizing the progress being made instead of being part of the solution. That lack of participation apparently makes its officials unaware the city has allocated $4 million toward operations and $3.5 million toward facility maintenance and trauma-informed renovations.
The Gibson Health Hub and Gateway Center is a continuation of the city’s commitment to address the health needs in our community, as well as the needs of our unhoused neighbors. This project will complement the existing network of support in our community. Learn more at cabq.gov/unhoused.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Most, if not all, of the promises Keller made when he was running 4 years ago, he has broken. Keller’s broken promises include not to increase taxes without a public vote, implementation of all the Department of Justice Police APD reforms, and reducing high crime rates just to mention 3.
Advocating and building of a homeless shelter is the only real promise that Mayor Tim Keller can say he has kept to some extent during his tenure as Mayor and he deserves credit for it.
Sherriff Gonzales has been in office for 6 years, the entire time the city’s crime rates have spiked. Gonzales proclaims he can do a better job than Keller and with his tough on crime policies will turn things around. Candidate for Mayor Gonzales is now making the City’s Homeless crisis a priority, something Keller has emphasized with his Gateway Homeless Shelter Project. Gonzales has done absolutely nothing for 6 years to address the homeless crisis other than having his deputies break up homeless encampments. Gonzales is now essentially committing “political plagiarism” attempting to steal the homeless issue as his instead of sticking to what he know best, which is unconstitutional law enforcement practices.
The citizens of Albuquerque, especially the neighborhoods around the Gibson Medical Center soon to be the Gibson Gateway Shelter need to keep vigilant to make sure it is not transformed into a 300 to 500 bed facility despite the promises made by Director Pierce. As is the case with all Mayors and their appointed Directors, eventually they all come and go, but the Gateway Shelter is here to stay and could be easily transformed into a Mega Shelter despite promises made the Keller Administration.
What is needed is to get the promises made in writing from Mayor Tim Keller and his Department Director Carol Pierce. To that end, the Albuquerque City Council needs to enact a resolution outlining all the promises made by Director Pierce to make sure we have a “firm commitment” and not just broken promises in the future.
Links to two related blog article are here: