On September 3, the Albuquerque Journal published a report entitled “ABQ Gateway Center likely to open some time this winter” with the article written by staff reporter Jessica Dyer. The article makes the disclosure that Mayor Tim Keller had met with Albuquerque Journal editors and reporters on the Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter and the city plans for converting the Gibson Medical Center into a homeless shelter.
The link to the entire unedited Journal article is here:
The takeaways to the Journal article included the following major disclosures ostensibly made by Mayor Tim Keller to the Journal Editors and reporters thereby giving the paper and exclusive news report:
The first phase of the extensive construction and remodeling will cost an estimated $14 million. The first phase will feature 50 emergency shelter beds exclusively for women. It also includes 20 beds for medical respite, which will provide people without other options, a place to recuperate from illness or injury. It also includes 20 beds for medically supervised sobering.
Albuquerque Family and Community Services Department Director Carol Pierce said the city selected the nonprofit Heading Home to run the 24/7 homeless shelter operation. The facility services will concentrate on serving people picked up by APD police, or other first responders, but who do not belong in the emergency room or jail. That includes those who are intoxicated, dealing with mental illness or “down and outs” as they are commonly described by first responders.
According to Pierce and Mayor Tim Keller, it is the facility’s use as a “first responder dropoff” that could have the most profound impact on the homeless community. Pierce called the dropoff “a huge piece of this puzzle” while Keller said the drop-off is a “disproportionately important” part of the Gateway Center.
Keller had this to say:
“We have to have a 24/7 low-barrier, first-responder dropoff. … Until we have that, we’ll never see a significant difference in what’s happening throughout our system.”
The city estimates 1,500 people could go through the drop-off each year. The “dropoff for the down and outs” will initially have 4 beds. It is primarily imagined as a funnel into other services. While that likely will include other on-site services, city officials say it will also help move people to a range of other destinations, including different local shelters, or even the Bernalillo County-run CARE Campus, which offers detoxification and other programs. The city says it has several other components planned for the property.
Interior demolition and remodeling of the 572,000 square foot building has been going on for a number of months to prepare the facility for a homeless shelter. According to the Journal report, the beds for 50 women as planned and for the first responder dropoff is to come online this winter. The city plans to launch other elements of the 24/7 shelter by next summer.
According to Keller, the city’s plan is to continue adding capacity, with ultimate plan to have a total of 250 emergency shelter beds, and 40 beds for medical sobering and 40 beds for medical respite beds for a total of 330 bed capacity.
Counting the other outside providers who lease space inside the building, city officials believe the property’s impact will be significant. In responding to questioning, Mayor Tim Keller said this:
“How many people did Lovelace help every day [when it was a hospital]? The answer is about a thousand … We’re on track to do roughly the same thing.”
KELLER’S MISHANDLING OF HOMELESS CRISIS
Since being sworn in as Mayor the first time on December 1, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller made it known that building a city operated homeless shelter was his top priority. Keller deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week temporarily shelter for the homeless critical towards reducing the number of homeless in the city. Keller’s plans were that the city owned shelter was to assist an estimated 300 homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility was intended to serve 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.
The city facility was to have on-site case managers that would guide residents toward counseling, addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. The new homeless shelter would replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side. The west side facility was deemed unsustainable costing over $1 million in transportation costs a year for the homeless. The goal was for the new homeless shelter to provide first responders an alternative destination for the people they encounter known as the “down-and-out” calls.
Notwithstanding Mayor Keller’s desire for a city run shelter, there were many critics of the proposal. The critics included downtown business organizations such as the Greater Albuquerque Business Association (GABA) and neighborhood associations that mounted strong opposition. Critics argued against mixing populations and argued that a large facility would unduly burden any one neighborhood or business area of the city. Bernalillo County officials, homeless service providers and residents of neighborhoods surrounding potential locations seriously questioned the city’s efforts for a one centralized shelter.
KELLER FIRST ABANDONS GATEWAY CENTER CONCEPT
On Wednesday, May 7, 2020, Mayor Tim Keller conducted one of his daily briefings on the City’s response to the Corona Virus. However, he dedicated most of the briefing to report on the “Gateway Center” Homeless Shelter. Participating in the briefing were City Council President Pat Davis, then County Commissioner Jim Collie and the city’s Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael.
The FACEBOOK video link to the press briefing is here:
In a surprise announcement, Keller said that the city was abandoning the development concept of a single, 300-bed homeless shelter. He announced the city will 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”.
It was reported that a working group had been meeting regularly with the goal to reach a collective decision on how best to tackle both the city and county’s homeless problem. According to Keller, the City, Bernalillo County Commission, the University of New Mexico Hospital along with homeless service providers were pursuing other strategies to serve the upwards of 5,000 persons a year who are homeless in the city and county each year.
Keller said this during a media briefing:
“We are, I think, in a regrouping phase, but one I think is in many ways better with an eye toward a comprehensive solution and with an eye toward collaboration.”
Mayor Keller had made it known he wanted to start construction on the Gateway Center during the 2020 winter. There was no clear timeline on the construction of any type of facility because the shift in strategy and because of the corona virus pandemic. Notwithstanding, Mayor Keller said the corona virus pandemic would not stop the city from developing some version of a Gateway Center plan.
Keller said the virus crisis has highlighted the need for an alternative to the city’s existing shelter, which is the former jail 20 miles from downtown and he said:
“The coronavirus has also shown us how important this is. … The amount of funding and logistics we have to deal with going back and forth to the West Side … is extremely hard.”
According to Mayor Keller at the time the working group was to develop a “multi-site” model. Such a model would still involve using the Gibson Medical Center. The big difference was no 300-bed facility would be built. Smaller facilities of between 50 to 100 scale would be considered along with other locations throughout the city. Regardless of the final strategy adopted by the working group, the $14 million approved by city voters was considered enough to move forward with a project, no doubt scaled back and at different locations.
PURCHASE OF GIBSON MEDICAL CENTER
Fast forward to April 6, 2021. 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. Keller announced that the massive facility would be transformed into a Gateway Center Homeless Shelter.
In making the announcement, Keller made it clear either way, like it or not, the site had been selected and the Gibson Medical facility would be used to service the homeless population as a Gateway Center. 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 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.
Fast-forward again to almost a year later to February 28, 2022. It was reported that the city decided to launch the Gibson Gateway Center with 50 beds for women. It was ordinally reported that the city was scaling back the use of the facility as a direct result of neighborhood opposition and appeals filed to the zoning change for a homeless shelter. 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.
On August 16, 2022, after a full 15 months of delay since the purchase of the sprawling Gibson Medical Center, it was announced the Keller Administration had finally secured the necessary zoning change to operate the facility as a 24-7 “homeless shelter.” The city went full speed ahead with the remodeling of the complex.
The Gibson Medical Center is currently home to 7 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 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.”
KELLER CLOSES CORONADO PARK
On July 25, in a speech before a group of commercial and real estate developers, Mayor Tim Keller announced closure of the unsanctioned homeless encampment at Coronado Park. Keller said this:
“[The]situation is absolutely unacceptable, so we’re going to stop it. In August 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. There is a bed for every person [who stays at Coronado] to go. … 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. …”
Mayor Keller was severely criticized for making the decision to close the park without conferring first and getting input from the surrounding neighborhoods, especially the Wells Park neighborhood, local businesses and stakeholders. In particular, Keller was criticized for not having a plan on how to accomplish the closure or how to deal with the displacement of the homeless.
On August 18, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference, along with other city officials, in front of a vacant, clean up and fenced off Coronado Park and made the announcement that Coronado Park was officially closed to the public making good on a promise he made on June 27 to close the park by the end of August. According to city officials, 75 to 120 people would camp out nightly at the park at Third Street and Interstate 40. By Tuesday, August 17 when the park was closed and after weeks of what the city called “intensive outreach” the number was down to 30 to 40 and 15 subsequently accepted transportation to a shelter.
Homeless campers were told of other housing options offered by the city. The city offered services and housing options to those using Coronado Park, including making limited property storage available to those who are interested or in need of it. Notwithstanding, many of the homeless displaced from Coronado Park refused to accept any help of assistance from the city and dispersed into the street and nearby neighborhoods
Mayor Keller Keller said the closure of Coronado Parke does not represent “any kind of a comprehensive strategy” to resolve homelessness crisis. Keller said this:
“The actions taken today by the City of Albuquerque are made necessary by the threats to public health, safety and the environment that this encampment has created. … Let no one think, however, that these actions represent a comprehensive strategy for resolving the problem of what we commonly call the homeless in Albuquerque or anywhere else in America.
Mayor Keller added that the yearslong “status quo” and public safety risks at the park including drug and human trafficking to those who lived at the park and those who provided them services had become “no longer acceptable.”
It has been reported that a very large percentage of the Coronado Park homeless suffer from mental illness and/ or drug addiction. Many of the homeless simply refuse “shelter housing” offered by the city, including the shelter housing in the west side 24-7 facility. Virtually none of the individuals who were displaced from Coronado Park were placed at the Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter in that it has yet to be made fully operational.
CITY’S FINANCIAL COMMITMENT TO THE HOMELSS CRISIS
The Keller Administration has adopted a housing first policy when it comes to dealing with the homeless crisis which also includes funding provided to at least 10 service providers.
During the 2021 fiscal year that ended June 10, 2021, the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration 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 mental health contracts totaling $4,329,452, and substance abuse contracts for counseling contracts totaling $2,586,302 and emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,688,094, affordable housing and community contracts totaling $22,531,752, homeless support services contracts.
Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 approved budget that began on July 1, 2023, significantly increased 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. A breakdown of the amounts to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance contained in the 2022-2023 budget is as follows:
$3,773,860 total for mental health contracts
$2,818,356 total substance abuse contracts for counseling, up by $288,680 from last year.
$42,598,361 total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for chronically homeless.
$6,025,544 total for emergency shelter contracts
$4,282,794 total homeless support services, up $658,581 from last year.
The links to the adopted 2021-2022 and 2022-23 approved budgets are here:
CITIZEN SURVEY AND JOURNAL OPINION POLL ON THE HOMELESS
In late August, a Citizens Satisfaction Survey commissioned by the city revealed that 70% feel the city is failing in its response to the homeless.
An Albuquerque Journal poll published on August 31 also found that 77% of the general public believes the homeless crisis is very serious and 16% feel it is somewhat serious with a staggering total of 93%. The percentage of residents who gave the city positive scores for addressing homelessness had risen from 13% in 2019 to 29% in 2020 but it has now fallen by 20% and is 9% currently.
The link to the full survey is here:
What is clear from the Citizen Perception Survey is that Albuquerque residents are dissatisfied with the Keller Administrations response to the homelessness crisis despite the city’s huge financial commitment to dealing with the homeless. 70% of citizens survey respondents rate the city poorly for its performance in dealing with the homeless crisis. This includes 41% who gave city hall the lowest possible rating. Meanwhile, only 9% gave the city’s homelessness response a favorable review. In other words, 7 times more people rate the city poorly on the issue than offer a positive assessment.
Mayor Keller for his part defended the poor survey results regarding the homeless and said this:
“[The survey] validates and gives a mandate to what we’re doing. … I hope that other policymakers hear that and support us, whether it’s the state Legislature or City Council. … This is how people feel and we’re coming at it with a lot of things. And what we need is for people to help make those real, so that those (survey) numbers will change.”
Mayor Keller has said that his Administration has adopted an “all the above” approach with dealing with the homeless crisis.
The link to the quoted news source is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is so damn laughable that Mayor Tim Keller would actually say the results of the Citizen’s Satisfaction Survey “validates and gives a mandate to what where’re doing”. It’s difficult to know if Keller actually believes the political “bull shit” rhetoric he tells the media or if he could not make up a better answer to a question asked of him. Notwithstanding, it is clear that Keller’s “all the above approach” thus far is simply not working.
Keller has very little to show for with the upwards of $100 million his administration has already spent over the last 2 years to deal with the homeless crisis. The truth is the homeless crisis was created in part by Keller’s own actions in allowing Coronado Park to be used as de facto homeless encampment and not enforcing city ordinances prohibiting camping, trespassing and loitering.
Mayor Tim Keller’s special trip to the Albuquerque Journal Center to meet with the Journal Editors and reporters in order to give the Journal and exclusive story on updating what is happening with the Gibson Gateway Center can only be described as “damage control”. It was Keller’s attempt to pivot from a crisis he has created. The damage control was no doubt the result of the following major factors converging over the last few weeks:
- The controversy surrounding the manner and method in which Keller order the closure of Coronado Park and admitting he had no long-term plan to deal with the crisis.
- The dramatic increase in the number and visibility of homeless and encampments throughout the city.
- The results of the Citizens Satisfaction Survey that 70% of the public feel the homeless crisis has been poorly handled by the Keller Administration.
- The 93% public opinion poll that feel the homeless crisis is very serious or somewhat serious.
The Alburquerque Journal rewarded Mayor Tim Keller for his exclusive story with a Sunday Journal editorial entitled “FULL SPEED AHEAD, Coronado Park Closure bolsters urgency for Gateway Center.”
The editorial said in part at the very end:
“Keller and his administration deserve credit for sticking with the Gateway initiative despite repeated hurdles. The project has been met with opposition since before Keller’s December 2020 announcement to buy the Gibson site.
The city’s purchase of the former Lovelace Hospital for $15 million, finalized in April 2021, made it the largest city-owned facility outside of the Albuquerque International Sunport. Funding for the purchase and improvements includes $14 million from a voter-approved city bond question in 2019, $5 million from the city’s budget, about $1 million in past years’ state appropriations, $1 million from Bernalillo County bond proceeds and $500,000 in corporate contributions.
The money has been there to build an expansive homeless shelter and services facility. It’s just been a question of will and overcoming opposition from neighbors.
Albuquerque residents want something done. That’s clear from the Journal poll, in which 77% of likely voters described homelessness as a very serious problem, a sharp increase from four years ago when 54% of respondents described it as such. The overwhelming majority opinion was shared by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The closing of Coronado Park makes the need for solutions even more acute. The city should forge ahead and make the Gateway Center a success. It’s clear from the polling Albuquerque residents believe there’s no time to waste.”
It is now painfully obvious that what Mayor Tim Keller said on May 7, 2020 that the 300 bed Gateway Center was “off the table” and that the city was adopting a “multi cite” approach with smaller Gateway Homeless Shelters of 50 or less was simply a ruse to get the appealing neighborhood associations off his back and to end the appeals.
What Keller announced to the Journal in his exclusive interview is that the Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter will be a shelter that will have a total of 250 emergency shelter beds, plus 40 beds for medical sobering and 40 beds for medical respite beds for a total of 330 bed capacity shelter. In other words, Tim Keller will be getting what he has wanted all along: a 300-person shelter. He will get what he has always wanted by being less than candid with the public, some would say sneaky, in order to get his way and be damned the neighborhoods.
What is needed is a far more targeted, surgical approach to address the mentally ill homeless and those suffering from substance abuse. The mistake the Keller Administration is making is converting the Gibson Medical Center into a 24-7 homeless shelter for 300 plus when it should be a Homeless Hospital and Drug treatment center.
Much acrimony and a waste of time could have been avoided had Keller reached out and worked with the neighborhoods. Mayor Keller’s flip flopping back to a large single Gateway Homeless Shelter and away from a “multi-site approach” is likely due to political realities and damage control.