On August 9. 2022, the online news outlet New Mexico Sun published a Pete Dinelli guest opinion column entitled “Albuquerque’s Gibson Medical Center should be Homeless Hospital & Rehab Center”. Below is the column followed by the link:
HEADLINE: “Albuquerque’s Gibson Medical Center should be Homeless Hospital & Rehab Center”
By Pete Dinelli
Aug 9, 2022
The city has a moral obligation to help the homeless who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction. The highest and best use for the Gibson Medical Center facility is a hospital and a mental health facility. It’s a purpose for which it was originally built for and already allowed by zoning.
Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness in Albuquerque and to learn about their specific needs. The 2021 PIT found 30.19% of the homeless self-reported as having a serious mental illness, 25.5% self-reported as substance abusers with a whopping 55.69% combined total.
On July 25, Mayor Tim Keller announced the complete closure of Coronado Park because of felony crime at the park. Closure will result in the displacement of upwards of 120 homeless. A large percentage suffer from mental illness and/or drug addiction. Not one will be housed in the Gateway Homeless Shelter planned for the Gibson Medical Center. The shelter is yet to be opened. It is mired in appeals to stop an overnight shelter. Many homeless refuse “shelter housing” offered by the city especially sheltering in the west side 24-7 facility which is a vacated jail facility.
The city can convert the Gibson Medical complex into a “Homeless Behavioral Health Hospital And Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Center” and abandon its efforts to create a Gateway “overnight homeless” shelter. A Homeless Behavioral Health Hospital and Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Center will fill a void and provide a facility that is desperately needed to provide medical and mental health care to the homeless.
The Homeless Behavioral Health Hospital And Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Center 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. The Bernalillo County Commission should assist with funding from the behavioral health tax for the hospital. [The University Of New Mexico Hospital could operate the facility with its hospital licensing with a Memorandum of Understanding.]
There are two Bernalillo County Metropolitan “specialty courts” already in existence known as “Outreach Court”, formerly named Drug Court, and the “Veterans Court”. Both Courts deal in one form or another with the mentally ill and/ or the seriously drug addicted who are homeless providing support services. The courts place an emphasis on diversion programs, counseling programs, providing medical and mental health assistance and to some extent housing. Both courts involve to some extent the disposal of pending criminal charges without incarceration and instead probation.
Notwithstanding the courts, a greater emphasis must be made to get those homeless who are not in the criminal justice system the medical care and assistance they need to turn their lives around without criminal prosecution and warehousing in jails. Much more must be done to initiate civil mental commitment hearings to deal with the mentally ill and the drug addicted who pose a threat to themselves, their family and the general public.
Since the beginning of 2022 there have been issued 2,308 citations to the homeless and it has issued 614 trespassing notices with 3 trespassing stops revealing outstanding warrants. APD and the Albuquerque Community Safety Division that relies on social workers with outreach to the homeless can assume the responsibility to identify those homeless and drug addicted who are criminal offense repeat offenders.
Both the City Attorney and the Bernalillo County District Attorney must dedicate resources in the form of attorneys that will assume the filing of civil mental health commitment hearings as allowed by law. A program of cross deputization of City Attorney’s by the Bernalillo County District Attorney to allow them to file civil mental health commitment petitions in State District Court in misdemeanor and felony cases needs to be created. The New Mexico Public Defender must be called upon by the Courts to provide a defense where and when needed.
One single specialty court designated as the “Outreach, Veterans and Homeless Court” or OVH Court should be created. The Criminal Division of the State District Court should assign a District Court Judge do deal exclusively with mental health commitment hearings with the help of Metro Judges and the consolidation and the assistance of “Metro Court Outreach Court” and the “Metro Community Veterans” court under one court that is established in both Metro Court and State District Court using both court’s resources including courtrooms.
ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO SUN
The New Mexico Sun is part of the Sun Publishing group which is a nonprofit. The New Mexico Sun “mission statement” states in part:
“The New Mexico Sun was established to bring fresh light to issues that matter most to New Mexicans. It will cover the people, events, and wonders of our state. … The New Mexico Sun is non-partisan and fact-based, and we don’t maintain paywalls that lead to uneven information sharing. We don’t publish quotes from anonymous sources that lead to skepticism about our intentions, and we don’t bother our readers with annoying ads about products and services from non-locals that they will never buy. … Many New Mexico media outlets minimize or justify problematic issues based on the individuals involved or the power of their positions. Often reporters fail to ask hard questions, avoid making public officials uncomfortable, and then include only one side of a story. This approach doesn’t provide everything readers need to fully understand what is happening, why it matters, and how it will impact them or their families.”
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