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City Council OKs homeless shelter funding

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The city is allocating another $668,000 to extend services at its emergency homeless shelter, a place where more than 300 people are now sleeping each night.

The Albuquerque City Council on Monday approved the funding request from Mayor Tim Keller, whose administration aims to keep the West Side Emergency Housing Center – previously operated only during winter – open on a year-round basis as it pursues more permanent solutions.

The funds appropriated Monday will keep the facility running through fiscal year 2019, which ends June 30. The money – $236,000 in federal grant funding and $431,515 from the general fund – brings this fiscal year’s shelter expenditures to almost $1.6 million.

That does not include about $250,000 on a bus contract needed to shuttle people to and from the shelter for the last few months of the fiscal year.

The shelter is a 30-minute drive from Downtown Albuquerque, which several City Councilors said added logistic and financial challenges.

Lisa Huval from Albuquerque’s Family & Community Services Department said in an interview the city’s FY 2020 budgeting process includes money to keep the shelter open year-round again, but that it is just an “intermediate” step as the city works toward building a new, more centrally located replacement. It is asking the Legislature to appropriate capital outlay money for that purpose.

“We know (the West Side shelter is) just not a great long-term solution; obviously, the transportation is very expensive, and we’d rather spend that money on services and housing than transportation,” said Huval, deputy director for housing and homelessness. “And the location means some folks don’t want to go out there. It feels too isolated; it’s not really a place where folks can come and use as their home base and get to services.”

The shelter, a former jail, has capacity for 450 beds. An average of 325 men, women and children used the facility each night during January – up from 276 during December, Huval said.

Councilor Isaac Benton – who previously advocated for keeping the shelter open year-round – on Monday voted for the allocation, but stressed that the city cannot get complacent.

“We all know that facility is available to us on a short-term basis, but I’d hate to see it institutionalized as some sort of answer to the problem,” he said in an interview, adding that he hasn’t seen that happening yet, “but once we go down that route, we get used to doing things. It’s human nature; we get used to doing things a certain way.”

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