On Tuesday, April 6, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference in front of the Gibson Lovelace Medical Center to officially announce the city had bought the massive 572,000-square-foot complex for $15 million and will transform it into a Gateway Center for the homeless. The complex currently 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.
In making the announcement, Keller had this to say 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.
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.
“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.”
HIGHLIGHTS OF GATEWAY OPERATIONS PLAN
The City of Albuquerque posted on its internet web site an 11 page draft of the “Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub Operations Plan” for the homeless shelter that will be inside the Lovelace Hospital complex the city.
The draft the operations plan is dated August, 2021. The link to the 11 page “Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub Operations Plan” is here:
The Gateway Operations Plan highlights include the following:
The Gibson Health Hub (GHH) is to be an anchor facility to fill healthcare and social service gaps. The Gateway Center will comprise a portion of the facility to provide shelter and services to the homeless. The mission of the Gateway Center will be to “provide a safe and welcoming place that provides a low-barrier, trauma-informed shelter along with services to the homeless using a client-centered approach.”
SECURITY AND PUBLIC SAFETY DISTRICT
The Gateway Center Shelter will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Gateway Center Shelter will have a secured entrance that will be staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure the safety of those sheltered, staff, volunteers, service provider partner agency staff and volunteers. Only enrolled Gateway Center Shelter guests, staff, program staff and volunteers, and registered partner agency staff and volunteers will be allowed to enter the Gateway Center shelter.
Personal visitors will not be allowed at the Gateway Center Shelter, except under limited conditions with express permission. Residents can come and go as needed while following a curfew policy, with exceptions to include work and personal needs and unanticipated issues such as family crisis. Weapons will not be allowed at the Gateway Center. There will be a weapons policy & procedure to address weapons brought on site. Clients will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they are aware of the weapons policy & procedure.
The City intends to establish a public safety district around the Gateway Center, which will be a concentrated, coordinated effort between City Departments that address public safety, including Albuquerque Community Safety, APD, Albuquerque Fire and Rescue, Family and Community Services, Parks and Recreation and Solid Waste. The purpose of the Public Safety District will be to better coordinate existing resources and efforts. Community policing will be included.
CRITICAL INCIDENCE RESPONSE AT FACILITY
The City of Albuquerque will work with the organizations operating the Gateway Center to establish procedures for critical incident response. Threats and assaults to staff and clients will not be tolerated. A 9 policy and procedure addressing threats and assaults to client and staff will be established. Any guest who threatens or assault staff or clients will be exited from the Gateway Center, and will receive transportation to their exit destination. De-escalation procedures will be established. All Gateway Center staff will receive training in conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. The procedures will address appropriate use of APD to resolve safety issues at the Gateway Center
SERVICES TO BE PROVIDED
The Gateway Center service staff will conduct a general assessment with individuals and families to verify that the Gateway Center is an appropriate option. As part of this assessment, Gateway Center staff will assess whether the presenting individual or family can be safely diverted to a non-shelter alternative. The Gateway Shelter will establish a referral process for community organizations, including other homeless assistance providers and other local service agencies. Gateway Center staff will conduct an assessment that will address any immediate issues that need to be resolved, including physical or medical health issues that may require a triage to more appropriate options. This may include, medical respite, detox or recovery programs. The Gateway Center programming will incorporate a trauma-informed approach that is equitable, culturally and spiritually accommodating, and supportive of LGBTQ+, people of color and people living with disabilities.
“The Gateway Center will be a low barrier shelter that follows the Housing First principles to address immediate and long-term housing needs. As a low-barrier and inclusive shelter, the Gateway Center will accept unhoused people who may have complex histories, including a criminal history. The Gateway Center will leverage existing services and develop partnerships for referrals into the community to foster collaboration and not competition. This includes creating space within the Gateway Center for other community partners to connect with guests and provide services, such as satellite office space. The Gateway Center will operate with a harm reduction philosophy to address substance use disorders. Guests do not need to be clean and sober to access the Engagement Center or Shelter, but they cannot use drugs on site.”
TWO MAJOR COMPONENTS
The Gateway Center will have two major components: an Engagement Center and the Shelter. The Engagement Center will serve as a “warm and welcoming access point to services”, while also helping to meet the most immediate needs of unhoused people coming to the Shelter. The Shelter will provide low barrier, trauma-informed shelter that meets people where they are at with a client-centered approach to develop a plan to achieve housing stability. Through the “Engagement Center”, the Gateway Center will provide person-centered services that “meet people where they are at” to achieve housing and behavioral health stability. Intake to services will be staged according to client need and interests. “Programs will embody a person-centered approach to support connections to community, and attain housing and behavioral health stability so that homelessness is a brief, rare, one-time experience.”
The City will have an onsite Gateway Center Administrator to oversee operations. One onsite Community Outreach Coordinator and a Gateways Systems Analyst will report to the Administrator. The Gateway Center Administration will be responsible for overseeing all Gateway Center Operations. The Systems Analyst will be responsible for ensuring systems are place to implement and evaluate effective service delivery, including data systems. The Community Outreach Coordinator will be responsible for coordinating day-to-day operations with the organizations selected to operate the Gateway Center.
TRANSPORTATION AND DINING TO BE PROVIDED
“The Gateway Center will operate a shuttle system. The shuttle system will transport referred guests to the Gateway Center for intake and assessment. The shuttle system will provide transportation to 6 individuals and families exiting the Gateway Center to their exit destination. Some Gateway Center clientele will also utilize public transportation.”
The Gateway Center will have a dining area that will be open daily for three meals per day, and a facility shuttle system will transport referred clients into the shelter and, eventually, to their “exit destination.” The initial anticipated hours for dining will be 7:00am-9:00am; 11:00am1:00pm; 5:00pm-7:00pm, and food donations will be accepted.
NO ENCAMPMENTS ALLOWED
No Encampments will be allowed on the Gibson Gateway Shelter property. The Department of Family and Community Services (DFCS) public outreach team will be responsible for addressing encampments on all public property. Two of the public outreach team members will be based at the Gibson Gateway facility. According to the operation plan, the DFCS public outreach team will monitor the ¼-mile radius from Gibson Gateway Shelter daily for encampments on public or private property. For encampments on public property, DFCS will post notice the same day the encampment is observed. The DFCS outreach team will refer any encampments located on private property to the Planning Department Code Enforcement Division.
ZONING APPLICATION FOR CONDITIONAL USE REQUIRED
On Tuesday, August 3, the city posted the 11-page operations plan on its website as it applied for a “conditional use” permit needed to run an overnight. A zoning hearing is scheduled for September 21, and it is more likely than not that the hearing officer will approve the permit. The city application for the conditional use argues there is a strong need for it to enhance Albuquerque’s demand for homeless services to an ever-expanding homeless population. It has been reported that more than 700 people have used the city’s shelter-and-hotel system the city provides for emergency shelter, especially during the winter.
The zoning for the Gibson Medical Center facility does allow an “overnight shelter” but only as a “conditional use,” something the city is now pursuing by application. 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 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.”
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.
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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The single most glaring shortcoming of the Gibson Gateway Operations Plan is that it avoids answering the most contentious question of the number of beds the shelter will have and the number of homeless it will accommodate on a nightly basis once the remodeling is complete. The Gibson Gateway facility already has a 201-bed capacity and the massive 572,000-square-foot complex could easily be remodeled to accommodate 99 more bed capacity to reach the original 300 facility Mayor Keller wanted.
According to Family and Community Service Director Carol Pearce, the Gibson Gateway shelter will ultimately be just “a slice” of the facility. Pearce has noted that existing mental health care and counseling provider tenants are already on the property that currently occupy about a quarter of the square footage with the city is looking to recruit more.
Lisa Huval, Albuquerque’s deputy director for housing and homelessness said the city should have a number by the time of the conditional use hearing and said the city is still reviewing a consultant’s report and continuing their own research .
Huval has said:
“We know we owe the community an answer on [how many homeless will be sheltered] … we are still in the process of evaluating what the right bed capacity is for the Gateway Center” .
A failure to disclose the number of beds the shelter will have and sticking with that number after the conditional use is granted will likely result in mistrust and resentment by the surrounding neighborhood and cause extreme hostility. You can expect that the September 21 Conditional Use Application hearing will be contentious, mainly because Mayor Keller has given mixed messages on what he really wants ultimately and as he failed to work with the surrounding neighborhoods. When Mayor Keller says “One Albquerque” he needs to add “under Keller.”
The link to a related blog article is here: