During the first two years of his term, Mayor Tim Keller said addressing the city’s homeless crisis was a priority by providing emergency shelter and services to an ever-increasing homeless population. Initially, Keller made it a top priority to build a 300-person, 24-7 centralized homeless shelter to to replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side. In 2019, voters approved $14 million for the project as part of a the general obligation bond package.
Three preferred sites emerged for the centralized emergency shelter:
1. University of New Mexico property near Lomas and Interstate 25
2. The old Lovelace hospital facility on Gibson
3. The Wells Park area near Second and Interstate 40
Strong and organized opposition emerged for a 300-bed centralized facility emerge at all 3 locations. The University of New Mexico Hospital employees, UNM faculty and students made it clear they did not want its land north of Lomas Boulevard to be used for the shelter and the UNM regents agreed. Neighborhood Associations and businesses in the vicinity around Wells Park were particularly vocal given the high number of homeless that congregate daily at Wells Park. Criticism for all 3 locations included that a 300 bed centralized facility would negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood and businesses.
On Wednesday, May 7, 2020, Mayor Tim Keller announced that the city was abandoning the development of a single, 300-bed homeless shelter. In his 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”.
On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the city officially announced it had bought the massive 572,000-square-foot complex for $15 million and will transform it into a Gateway Center for the homeless. It was announced that the complex would be only 1 of the multisite homeless shelters and not the 300-bed shelter originally planned. The complex has a 201-bed capacity, but remodeling could likely increase capacity significantly.
After Keller’s April 6 press conference announcing the city has bought the Lovelace Gibson facility, neighborhood protests erupted. Mayor Keller came under severe criticism for his failure to reach a consensus and take community input before the Gibson Medical Center was purchased. Other neighborhood resident complaints included that the shelter will only cause more problems for the area, that the Gibson facility will in fact be converted to a 300 person “mega-shelter” as Keller originally wanted, and that the Gibson Medical Center does not fit the certain criteria announced for the Gateway project, including walkability, access to employment, and a central location. Some residents felt that a 75-to-100-person shelter is way too big and that it should be capped at 30 residents
CONDITIONAL USE APPLICATION AND PENDING ZONING HEARING
The zoning for the Gibson Medical Center facility allows for an “overnight shelter” but only as a “conditional use” that must be applied for by the city. The city is now applying for the conditional use arguing there is a strong need for it to enhance Albuquerque’s demand for homeless services to an ever-expanding homeless population. A zoning hearing is scheduled for September 21, 2021.
In anticipation of the zoning application hearing, the City prepared an operations plan for the Gibson site and posted it on its website in mid-August. The “Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub Operations Plan” is an 11 page draft. the topics it covers include the services to be provided, transportation and dining, security and related topics.
EDITORS NOTE: The postscript to this blog article provides the major highlights the Gateway Operations Plan and the link to the 11 page “Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub Operations Plan”
The single most glaring shortcoming of the Gibson Gateway Operations Plan is that it avoided answering the most contentious questions of: 1) the number of beds the shelter will have and 2) the number of homeless it will accommodate on a nightly basis once the remodeling is complete. At the time the operations plan was released, city officials said they planned to have that information by the end of August.
CITY FINALLY REVEALS OCCUPANCY LEVELS
City officials said earlier this year they were contemplating incorporating 150 to 175 emergency shelter beds into what they are now calling the Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub. Neighbor’ living along the Gibson corridor have objected to that number and have gone so far as to had advocate for a cap of 30.
On September 3, the Albuquerque Journal reported that it made inquiries on the Gibson Gateway Center shelter occupancy in anticipation of the September 21 zoning permit hearing. The city said in a statement that it is now considering an operation that gradually ramps up to 100 individuals and 25 families on-site.
Family and Community Services Department planning manager Bobby Sisneros said in a written statement:
“We are still meeting with neighborhood groups and various stakeholders on the best scenario for bed capacity at Gibson Gateway Center. The scenario that seems to be getting the most traction is a phased approach which would accommodate about 25 families and 100 individuals when fully phased in. The phased approach will allow us to evaluate effectiveness and efficiency so we can adjust as needed.”
Rachel Conger Baca, president of the nearby Siesta Hills Neighborhood Association, said the term “family” is not clear-cut, as it could mean anything from a single mother with one child to extended family units that would push the shelter’s total capacity to 200-plus. Baca said the scale does not seem to jibe with the city’s goal of having a “trauma-informed” and said:
“That still doesn’t sound too far off from a 300-bed facility. … We are convinced that the City keeps taking steps that will ensure trauma will be inflicted on the people using the shelter and those who live, work and go to school near it.”
The link to the full Albuquerque Journal is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is downright pathetic that the Keller Administration has never been willing to be up front with the public on the occupancy level of the shelter. What is just as pathetic is that the city said it would disclose the plans by the end of August to the public, but it never did. It took the Albuquerque Journal to hound the Keller Administration on disclosing the information.
The single most egregious shortcoming of the Gibson Gateway Operations Plan is that it avoided 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 as he failed to work with the surrounding neighborhoods.
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” of the operations plan is dated August, 2021.
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.
The link to the 11 page “Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub Operations Plan” is here: