On July 25, Mayor Tim Keller announced closure of Coronado Park. Keller said in a statement:
“[The]situation is absolutely unacceptable, so we’re going to stop it … we’re closing Coronado Park. … It doesn’t matter if we know exactly what we’re doing next. It doesn’t matter exactly what the timing is or how we’re going to do it, but we have to do better than what’s happening at Coronado Park. … The status quo will not stand … This remains a complex issue and while we work to determine what’s next for Coronado, we’ll keep stepping up to get folks connected to the right services and resources. …”
Not a single one of the upwards 120 homeless people who will be displaced from Coronado Park will be housed in the Gibson Gateway Homeless shelter simply because it’s not open yet. The city has said that a large percentage of the homeless that are being displaced from Coronado Park suffer from mental illness or drug addiction. Many resist the “shelter housing” offered by the city, including the shelter housing in the west side 24-7 facility.
Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park became the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day. At any given time, there are 75 to 100 homeless tents or campsites at the park with 100 to 125 homeless living on the grounds and wandering in the area. City officials have said it is costing the city $27,154 every two weeks or $54,308 a month to clean up the park only to allow the homeless encampment to return.
Keller himself admitted there is no real plan in place on how to deal with the closure of the park and the placement of all those that are about to be displaced. Keller essentially “pivoted” from one crisis he created known as Coronado Park to another crisis he will have to deal with when it comes to dealing the 100 to 125 homeless that are being displaced.
LOVELACE GIBSON MEDICAL CENTER PURCHASE
It was on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, that 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 has a 201-bed capacity, for $15 million. The facility is currently in the process of being be transformed into a Gateway Center Shelter 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 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 had been selected and the Gibson Medical facility will be used to service the homeless population as a Gateway Center.
ZONING APPLICATION AND OPERATION PLAN FOR GIBSON MEDICAL CENTER
It is proposed that the Gateway Center Shelter will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year “homeless shelter”. The zoning for the Gibson Medical Center facility allows for an “overnight shelter” but only as a “conditional use” under the Integrated Development Ordinance that must be applied for by the city. Within weeks of purchasing the facility, the city applied 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.
In anticipation of the zoning application, the City prepared an operations plan for the Gibson site and posted it on its website. The “Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub Operations Plan” includes the services to be provided, including transportation and dining, security and related topics and it all centers on the facility being used as temporary housing homeless shelter.
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. 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 draft Gateway Operations Plan provides that The Gibson Health Hub (GHH) is to be an anchor facility to fill healthcare and social service gaps. A large portion of the Gateway Center will be 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.” According to the operation plan, 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 referals for medical respite, detox or recovery programs.
The draft Gateway Operations Plan outlines that 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.
APPEAL STILL PENDING
Since the filing of the zoning application, the application has been bogged down in appeals filed by the surrounding neighborhoods. Mayor Keller himself has lamented on the very slow progress to the point that he proclaimed the facility is caught up in the endless “purgatory” of appeals.
On October 6, 2021, it was reported that hearing examiner Robert Lucero postponed a decision on the city’s application for a “conditional use” approval to use the Gibson Medical Center for “emergency overnight” shelter so the city can finish finalizing key details.
Lucero found that the city had demonstrated its shelter plan complied with Albuquerque’s Integrated Development Ordinance, but he said its case relied in part on a “draft” operations plan for the proposed Gateway Center. The city released the draft in August addressing topics like shelter intake hours, client transportation and site security. The city has yet to formalize it, which Lucero said leaves it subject to change.
“This matter should be deferred to allow the city the opportunity to finalize and adopt the operations plan on which rests a significant portion of the justification of the shelter application. ”
The appeal is still pending with remodeling work being done without the zoning change. The city has yet to fully formalize the operations plan an no hearing will be scheduled before that is accomplished.
INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE (IDO)
The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) includes Zoning and subdivision regulations to govern land use and development within the city of Albuquerque and establishes a system of planning. The IDO is organized into 7 Parts. Each part includes regulations for particular topic.
Private projects will be most affected by four factors:
1. How the property is zoned.
2. What uses are allowed at that location.
3. What development standards the project will need to meet, and
4. What process the project will need to go through to be approved.
Under the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), Section 14-16-7 entitled Definitions, Acronyms, and Abbreviations, the terms Overnight Shelter, Medical or Dental Clinic Hospital are defined as follows:
“A facility that provides sleeping accommodations for 6 or more persons for a period of less than 24 hours with no charge or a charge substantially less than market value; it may provide meals and social services. Any such facility open to clients between 10:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. is considered an overnight shelter. See also Community Residential Facility, Group Home, and Campground or Recreational Vehicle Park.”
MEDICAL OR DENTAL CLINIC
“An establishment where patients who are not lodged overnight are admitted for examination and treatment by a group of licensed health care practitioners, dentists, or licensed health care practitioners and dentists in practice together.”
“An establishment that provides diagnosis and treatment, both surgical and nonsurgical, for patients who have any of a variety of medical conditions through an organized medical staff and permanent facilities that include inpatient beds, medical services, and continuous licensed professional nursing services. This definition includes any facility licensed by the state as a general, limited, or special hospital.”
THE CITY’S HOMELESS NUMBERS
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines sheltered homeless as “residing in an emergency shelter, motel paid through a provider or in a transitional housing program.” HUD defines “unsheltered homeless” as “those sleeping in places not meant for human habitation including streets, parks, alleys, underpasses, abandoned buildings, campgrounds and similar environments.”
Homeless providers consistently say the City has upwards of 5,000 homeless or near homeless. The city has upwards of 10 homeless service providers on contract and many of those 5,000 are already being provided with services. The real challenge is to convince that portion of the 5,000 who absolutely do not want any kind of services or help of any kind.
Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
According to the most current PIT annual report, there were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque. The 2021 PIT count found that 73.6% of the homeless population was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” locations.
Major highlights of the 2021 PIT report are as follows:
There were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque, a slight increase over the 2019 count of 1,524 homeless. The 2020 homeless count is 2.8% higher than in 2019 and 18.9% more than in 2017, despite the pandemic limiting the 2021 counting efforts.
The 2021 PIT count found that 73.6% of the homeless population was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” locations. The 73.6% in the 2021 count is much a higher than the 2019 and 2017 PIT counts.
Albuquerque’s unsheltered homeless decreased from 567 people in 2019 to 413 in the 2021 count.
42% of Albuquerque’s unsheltered were defined as chronically homeless, meaning they had been continuously homeless for at least a year and had a disabling condition.
21% said they were homeless due to COVID.
37% were experiencing homelessness for the first time.
12% were homeless due to domestic violence.
30.19% of the homeless in Albuquerque self-reported as having a serious mental illness.
25.5% self-reported as substance abusers.
The link to quoted statistics is here:
CITY’S FINANCIAL COMMITEMENT TO HELP HOMELESS OR NEAR HOMELESS IN THE MILLIONS
This past fiscal year 2021 ending June 10, 2021, the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration have spent upwards of $40 Million to benefit the homeless or near homeless. The 2021 adopted city budget for Family and Community Services Department provides for emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,688,094, affordable housing and community contracts totaling $22,531,752, homeless support services contracts totaling $3,384,212, mental health contracts totaling $4,329,452, and substance abuse contracts for counseling contracts totaling $2,586,302.
The link to the 2021-2022 city approved budget is here:
Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 approved budget significantly increases the Family and Community Services budget by $24,353,064 to assist the homeless or near homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915.
The 2022-2023 proposed budget for the Department of Community Services is $72.4 million and it will have 335 full time employees, or an increase of 22 full time employees.
A breakdown of the amounts to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance is as follows:
$42,598,361 total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for chronically homeless. It is $24,353,064 more than last year.
$6,025,544 total for emergency shelter contracts (Budget page 102.), down $396,354 from last year.
$3,773,860 total for mental health contracts (Budget page105.), down $604,244 from last year.
$4,282,794 total homeless support services, up $658,581 from last year.
$2,818,356 total substance abuse contracts for counseling (Budget page 106.), up by $288,680 from last year.
The link to the 2022-2023 budget it here:
The millions being spent each year by the city to deal with the homeless with the “housing first” policy should be more than sufficient to deal with housing the homeless.
BERNALILLO COUNTY BEVHAVIORAL HEALTH TAX FOR SERVICES
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.
The intent for the tax is 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.
Studies suggest that nearly 50% of Bernalillo County residents needing mental health or addiction treatment services are not getting the help they need because of gaps in New Mexico’s behavioral health care. Untreated behavioral health conditions have led to increased and sometimes tragic interactions with law enforcement and the homeless and mentally ill, jail incarceration, overuse of hospital emergency and inpatient services, and unnecessary suffering on the part of patients and their families.
KOB 4 contacted APD and asked them to quantify how they are enforcing the law when it comes to the low-level, nonviolent offenses committed by the homeless. An APD spokesman told KOB that since the beginning of 2022 there have been issued 2,308 citations to the homeless and issued 614 trespassing notices with 3 trespassing stops revealing outstanding warrants.
The link to the unedited KOB 4 news story is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mayor Tim Keller has been very short sighted and has been feckless in his efforts to convert a facility designed, built and zoned for a hospital or medical services for an overnight homeless shelter that requires special zoning for a “conditional use” or “special use”.
Because Mayor Tim Keller has created a crisis with the closure of Coronado Park, he needs to “rethink” his desire to convert the massive Gibson Medical Center into a 24-7 homeless shelter. Mayor Keller should seek to dedicate the massive 572,000 square-foot Gibson Medical complex to a “Homeless Behavioral Health Hospital And Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Center.” This will allow the facility to be used for many who will be displaced from Coronado Park.
The highest and best use for the Gibson Medical Center facility is a hospital or medical facility, the purpose for which it was originally built for and for which it is already zoned. If that happens, there is no need for a “conditional use” or “special use” for the facility. A hospital or medical facility can be open immediately at the Gibson Medical Center, operated 24-7 and making available space for 201 patients and beds.
The Gibson Medical facility needs to be staffed with full time physicians, counselors, social workers and mental health experts to provide the needed care to the homeless who are suffering from addiction or mental illness. Services and medical and mental health care at the center should be offered to the homeless with a “self-commitment” component for a period of time that will guarantee access to the necessary medical and mental health services.
Efforts should be made by the city to seek emergency funding from Bernalillo County Commission and the behavioral health tax with a “Memorandum Of Understanding” for the county to staff the facility while the city operates, maintains it, remodels it and provides security.
For the last 5 years, the Albuquerque City Council has acted as a very silent partner with Mayor Keller and his policies to deal with the homeless. That must stop. In the event that Mayor Keller refuses to reconsider converting the Gibson Medical Center to a homeless shelter, the City Council needs to exert its oversight and budgetary authority and enact a resolution dedicating the Gibson Medical Center as a “Homeless Behavioral Health Hospital And Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Center.” Included in such a resolution would be funding for the project.
Too many elected and government officials, like Mayor Tim Keller, have a hard time dealing with the fact that many homeless adults simply want to live their life as they choose, where they want to camp for as long as they can get away with it, without any government nor family interference and especially no government rules and no regulations. Mayor Tim Keller should find other “housing first” facilities and options for shelters, including remodeling the West Side Shelter.
The city cannot just ignore and not enforce its anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance laws and criminal laws nor pretend they simply do not exist. Unlawful encampment homeless squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers from the city or alternatives to living on the street and want to camp at city parks really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” and force them to move on and out of the city or be arrested by APD for violating our laws.
The city has a moral obligation to help the homeless who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction. Shelters in and of themselves do not address the lack or need to provide medical and psychiatric care and drug rehabilitation and counseling. A homeless behavioral health hospital and drug rehabilitation treatment center at the Gibson Medical Center would fill that void and provide a facility that is absolutely necessary to provide medical health care to the homeless.