On August 16, after a full 15 months of delay since the Keller Administration purchased the sprawling Gibson Medical Center, formerly the Lovelace Hospital, to convert it into a 24-7 homeless shelter, the Keller Administration has finally secured the necessary zoning change to operate the facility as a 24-7 “homeless shelter.” Zoning Hearing Examiner Robert Lucero has now authorized the zone change after appeals were dropped by adjoining property owners and the neighborhoods.
On October 6, 2021, it was reported that hearing examiner Robert Lucero had postponed a decision on the city’s application for a shelter so the city could finish finalizing key details to operate the facility. 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 “draft” operations plan for the proposed Gateway Center. Lucero wrote:
“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 link to quoted source material is here:
The zoning for the Gibson Medical Center facility allows for an “overnight shelter” but only as a “conditional use” that the city had to apply under the Integrated Development Ordinance. 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. Since the filing of the zoning application, the application has been bogged down in appeals filed by the surrounding neighborhoods.
In June at a press conference announcing the closure of Coronado Park, Mayor Keller himself complained about the delay and said this:
“The Gateway Center has been delayed years because of appeals based on zoning laws made by a small, tiny community that doesn’t want that thing to open. … [It has been tied up in an] endless purgatory of appeals.”
According to the city’s Family and Community Department, demolition and renovations are already underway at the facility. The renovations include an emergency shelter, a first responder drop-off, a detox center, and a medical unit for people who are too sick to recover on the street, but not sick enough for the hospital.
The links to quoted news source material is here:
Gibson Health Hub is currently home to seven tenants, including three accredited hospitals, and various City of Albuquerque departments. Those tenants are:
AMG Specialty Hospital which is a long-term acute care hospital.
Haven Behavioral Hospital which is an in-patient and out-patient treatments for individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Turquoise Lodge Hospital which is operated by the NM Department of Health hospital and provides substance abuse treatment services to New Mexico residents.
Fresenius Kidney Care which provides education, support, and care for kidney health.
Zia Health Management which is an in-home medical care provider.
VIP Trauma Recovery Center, which is a central hub to connect victims of violent crime to trauma recovery services
The Encampment Outreach Team which secures ¼ mi radius around the facility and connects individuals in encampments to service.
The city’s Violence Intervention Program offices have also moved into the facility.
The Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS) is the most recent tenant to have moved into the facility. The creation of ACS was announced on September 7, 2021. It is designed to replace APD sworn police with civilian social workers and trained mental health experts to respond to 911 calls involving the homeless, the mentally ill and drug addictions. The ultimate goal of the ACS is to reduce the staggering number of 911 emergency calls to those who may be having psychotic episodes and to utilized de-escalation tactics and avoid use of force and deadly force.
The city’s 2022-2023 approved budget includes $12.6 million for the Gibson Gateway Center. The funding includes $10.6 million to operate the Gateway emergency shelter and first responder drop-off, $1.3 million for the medical respite unit, and $730,000 for the medical sobering or detox unit.
OPERATION PLAN FOR GIBSON MEDICAL CENTER
As part of the zone change 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 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 referrals for medical respite, detox or recovery programs.
The 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.
KELLER’S HEAVY-HANDED APPROACH TO NEIGHBORHOOD
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. 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. This challenge [of homelessness] is huge. And we know this challenge has gotten way worse during the pandemic. 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. … 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.
OPPOSITION EMERGES FROM NEIGHBORHOODS
After his April 6, 2021 press conference, Mayor Keller came under severe criticism for his failure to reach a consensus and take community input before the Gibson Medical Center was purchased for a homeless shelter. Residents of Elder Homestead, Parkland Hills, and Siesta Hills Neighborhood Associations led the efforts to aggressively oppose Keller’s plan to house hundreds of homeless residents in the District 6 Southeast Heights City Council District. District 6 hosts more than 30 sites providing services to low-income and homeless residents. Area residents feared the clustering of unmanaged encampments and low rent by-the-night motels in the area will increase police calls for service and make things even worse for the area with a homeless shelter
Tony Lopez, a resident of nearby Siesta Hills neighborhood had this to say after Keller announced the purchase of the medical center:
“I just don’t think it was fair that it was thrown onto us without getting any input or allowing us to hear about it or allowing us to say something about it. It’s really frustrating for us because we already have an issue here at the present moment and they’ve got to find a better place which is away from neighborhoods.”
Other residents felt the facility should be used on a smaller scale to service a few dozen women and children, rather than a few hundred people. The biggest worry is that the Gibson facility will in fact be converted to “mega-shelter” as was originally proposed by Keller and that it will impact the neighborhood.
On Friday, April 9, 2021 neighbors who felt 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”
Tony Johnson, who lives near the Gibson complex said he’s experienced homelessness himself, and had this to say:
“You’re not going to do that in our backyard, the way you wanna do it. … You need to talk to us first. I know what it is, but you’re not going to do something over here 24/7 and continue to affect our children and our schools and our community”.
Area resident Ivan Wiener, who participated in the protest said:
“I think there’s definitely middle ground, we have already told the city that we agree with people needing services, but it can’t be more than 50 to 70 beds in this place.”
Tamaya Toulouse who also lives near the Gibson complex, said she supports the city offering housing. However, she, and others, don’t trust the city to keep its promises, especially after spending decades revitalizing their neighborhoods.
She had this to say:
“If we’ve got 300 behavioral health folks here all day long – during the daytime spilling out into the streets with nowhere to go will further disenfranchise the southeast heights and that’s been going on for four decades too long already.”
Raven Green, who lives in the Elder Homestead Neighborhood had this to say:
“Over the last five or six years, [our area] has declined. It’s become unsafe. The crime is rampant.”
Toulouse and Green both say the Gibson Medical Center does not fit the certain criteria announced for the Gateway project, including walkability, access to employment, and a central location. Toulouse said:
“What does it need to have to be effective? Good transportation lines that Gibson line for buses is not anywhere in the middle of the city. “
Raven Green added:
“It’s concerning for everyone and people that live here, and the people that are going to be putting themselves in a vulnerable position going to the city, to try and get help.”
Vera Watson, a resident of nearby Parkland Hills neighborhood, said the city has too big of a concentration of social services in Southeast Albuquerque. Watson believes it contributes to crime. Watson said she voted for the bond question that generated $14 million for the Gateway Center and that she supports additional services for people who are homeless. However, she feels the city has neglected the surrounding neighborhoods while advancing the project. Watson said bluntly:
“I just think the mayor gave us his middle finger”.
REDUCED MISSION FOR GIBSON GAETWAY HOMELESS SHELTER
The net result of the protests was the neighborhoods organized, held meetings with city officials and recruited attorney’s acting pro bono to assist with appeals. The neighborhoods argued that the city needed to do more for homelessness, but not all in one place at one time. The neighborhoods were successful in negotiating greater input on the site development, including the city investing in lighting and infrastructure, security plans and creation of a “neighborhood council” to address unintended consequences. The city significantly reduced plans for the Gibson Gateway Center from an unlimited number of overnight beds to a homeless shelter for upwards of 50 women and those needing medical care.
Keller’s ambitious plan to house an undeclared number of homeless was refined. The city’s website on the center reveals that, for Phase 1, “the Shelter and Engagement Center portion of Gateway will serve 50 single adult women-identifying individuals (on a yearly basis, up to 200 individual women). The First Responder Drop-Off will make up to 1,500 transports a year to needed services.”
On February 28, 2022 it was reported that the city decided to launch the Gibson Gateway Center with 50 beds for women. In the past, the City said the Gibson Gateway Center was to be a 24/7 operation to aid anyone regardless of gender, religion or sobriety but announced it would start exclusively with women asserting that it made sense from a resource’s perspective.
There are about twice as many “unsheltered” men as women in Albuquerque, according to an official 2021 count. However, Elizabeth Holguin, the city’s Deputy Director for Homeless Solutions, said that there are disproportionately fewer emergency shelter beds for women throughout the city with 155 for women compared to 463 for men, with another 107 that are flexible. She said the Gateway will help address that gap.
The women-only program also takes into account the dangers women face on the street. Holguin said this:
“We’re committed to social justice and equity, and equity does really mean prioritizing the most vulnerable individuals in our society. … From our data we’ve seen homeless women are much more vulnerable than the general population and more vulnerable than homeless men as well.”
The city’s goal is to open the shelter by the end of 2022 and Officials say the facility should eventually accommodate up to 100 adults and 25 families, but beds for men and families will come in later phases.
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 to a 24-7 overnight homeless shelter that required special zoning for a “conditional use”. Mayor Tim Keller has created a crisis with the closure of Coronado Park admitting he had no plans and for that reason he should have reconsidered his desire to create homeless shelter and instead convert the massive Gibson Medical Center into a Homeless Behavioral Health Hospital And Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Center which is far more needed than a 24-7 homeless shelter.
HOMELESS BEHAVIORAL HEALTH HOSPITAL AND DRUG REHABILITATION TREATMENT CENTER
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. The massive 572,000 square-foot Gibson Medical complex would be ideal for a “Homeless Behavioral Health Hospital And Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Center.” Such a hospital could 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. 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 and mental health care and drug rehabilitation to the homeless.
KELLER’S HEAVY HAND
Since being sworn in on December 1, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller made it clear that building a homeless shelter was one of his top priorities. City Hall deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week temporarily shelter for the homeless as critical toward reducing the number of homeless in the city.
When it comes to city projects and programs, the term “NIMBY” stands for “Not In My Back Yard”. It describes opposition to proposed projects by homeowners, property owners, and business owners. Three of the biggest issues that generate public outcry are the location of adult amusement businesses, methadone clinics and homeless shelters. Mayor Keller’s desire to build a 24-hour, 7 day a week city built and run homeless shelter is a classic case of NIMBY, but it is a problem he actually created and brought upon himself.
Mayor Tim Keller mishandled the homeless shelter site selection process from the get-go. His press conference where he announced the purchase of the Loveless hospital was heavy handed, especially when he essentially gloated and said the location of the shelter had been decided upon, end of discussion, to bad, so sad, so get over it.
Keller’s comments in his June, 2022 press conference announcing the closure of Coranado “The Gateway Center has been delayed years because of appeals based on zoning laws made by a small, tiny community that doesn’t want that thing to open. … [It has been tied up in an] endless purgatory of appeals” were also heavy handed and did not help much either and showed disrespect.
Neighborhoods need to be respected and citizens have every right to advocate what they believe in that is in the best interest of where they live, even if that means exercising their rights under the law to stop a heavy-handed Mayor from doing whatever he wants.
Mayor Tim Keller failed to build true consensus on what the city should do and where the shelter should go and he is the reason for the endless “purgatory of appeals”. It was his arrogance not to seek out and listen to those who will have to deal with his legacy project.