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City’s expanded homeless services include new shuttle

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Pastor Chuck Aragon of the God’s Warehouse ministry said it’s a “dream come true” to have the city of Albuquerque provide shuttle service from his east Central ministry to the West Side shelter. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Every week, the soup kitchen and food pantry at God’s Warehouse feed about 3,000 people who might not otherwise eat.

It is easy to spot the need from the ministry’s fenced-in digs across the street from an empty supermarket on East Central. CEO Chuck Aragon said that he sees people who are homeless walking by “day and night” and that his donation-dependent operation has for years provided food, clothing and temporary refuge for them.

But now, for the first time, the International District ministry can also offer a link to shelter.

The city of Albuquerque this spring made God’s Warehouse a new pickup and drop-off location for bus service to its Westside Emergency Housing Center. It offers daily rides to the shelter at 6 p.m. and return trips the next morning.

“This is a dream come true,” Aragon said Monday during a news conference with Mayor Tim Keller. “So many times, we have fed thousands of men and women on the streets, and always wanted to offer them a place to shelter. The streets are dangerous.”

The God’s Warehouse pickups mark further expansion of the city’s homeless programming. Previously, the shuttle to the 450-bed shelter on the city’s far West Side stopped only in the Downtown area. Pickups were limited to Coronado Park, near Third and Interstate 40.

“This has been a disconnect for decades in terms of services that are available elsewhere and where people are located,” Keller said.

Shelter use increased by about 15 to 20 people a night when the city added God’s Warehouse a few months ago, according to officials with the Family and Community Services Department.

But Aragon said he expects that number to rise when temperatures drop.

“With the weather (now), people are comfortable,” he said in an interview. “Once that winter comes, ain’t nobody want to be on the streets.”

The city is for the first time running the shelter year-round. In the past, it typically closed in mid-March.

The city has budgeted about $4.4 million in contracts for its operations, which include the costs to shuttle people to its location about 20 miles from Downtown.

This summer, an average of 285 people are sleeping in the shelter each night, according to weekly data reports provided by the city. That compares with 352 nightly users in mid-January, city numbers show.

Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director for housing and homeless, said services at the facility have grown since winter. The city now keeps the shelter open during the day on weekends. Bernalillo County has begun funding on-site case managers. And the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center sends medical personnel out to help twice a week, Huval said.

Doug Chaplin, operations manager with Family and Community Services, said the city is also exploring other shelter pickups – particularly on the West Side.

But city leaders see the current shelter as a temporary solution. The city is seeking $14 million in general obligation bond funding to start work on a centralized, 24/7 homeless shelter and services center, something Keller has called one of his top priorities. The project is part of a $128.5 million capital program going to voters this fall.

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