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Icy temps prompt city to open emergency center

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — City officials opened the Westside Emergency Housing Center to area homeless Monday in anticipation of subfreezing temperatures projected to rival some of the coldest seen during all of last winter season.

Mayor Tim Keller, along with representatives from the city’s Department of Family and Community Services and Heading Home, announced the early opening, originally scheduled to start operations Thursday.

“Winter weather struck Albuquerque early this year, and we want to make sure that folks have a warm, safe place to go,” Keller said during a news conference. “We have assembled our team to make sure that we can get people out of the cold weather and into the shelter.”

People experiencing homelessness – single men, single women and families with children – can use the center and its services. The facility can house up to 450 people each night.

Homeless men and women line up Monday at Coronado Park to board buses to the Westside Emergency Housing Center. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Those wishing to use the service can pick up transportation each evening at 5, 6 and 7 at Coronado Park, 301 McKnight Ave NW. The first bus arrives back at Coronado Park near 7 a.m. the next morning.

Dennis Plummer, CEO of Heading Home, who operates the center, said people needing assistance who have missed pick-up transportation at the park can call 839-9193 for help.

“We’ve asked (Albuquerque Police Department) and (University of New Mexico Hospital) to call us, but we’ve advertised broadly beginning this past Saturday the number so that if you are someone on the street you can access it,” Plummer said.

Michaela Ivy, 62, of Orange County, Calif., who said she has been homeless for three years, was at Coronado Park with her belongings when the first buses picked up people at 5 p.m. Monday.

“It’s a blessing that they are opening early,” Ivy said. “I’m looking forward to going out there and getting out of the cold.”

Plans are in the works to extend the operation of the center to 24 hours a day year-round, Keller said.

An arctic surface high spread across the state Monday night, producing light winds and clearing skies. Low temperatures this morning were expected to be bitterly cold for mid-November.

Lows in the metro area were forecast to be between 13 and 19 degrees this morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Record lows are expected in the Northwest Plateau, the Upper Rio Grande Valley, the Santa Fe metro area, the Estancia Valley, Raton Ridge, the Johnson Mesa and in Quay County, forecasters said.

In addition, the combination of very cold temperatures and light breezes this morning will create bitterly cold wind chills.

Forecasters anticipate overnight low temperatures to drop to around freezing each evening through Friday in the metro area, with mostly clear skies and light winds.

A quieter weather pattern is in store for the remainder of the week with lighter winds and mostly clear skies, they said. No hazardous weather is expected through Saturday.

Temperatures will warm slowly through the end of the week before the next cold front moves into the region Saturday.

Journal photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis contributed to this story.