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Westside shelter adds computers, behavioral health care and career services

The homeless shelter on a mesa about 45 minutes west of Downtown Albuquerque is trying to be more than just a roof over someone’s head.

The Westside Emergency Housing Center in the past six months has added medical and behavioral health care, and career services for the men, women and children who stay on site. In recent weeks, the center opened a computer lab with about 15 computers that previously were at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, said Gilbert Ramirez, deputy director of the city’s behavioral health and wellness programs.

“This is part of our multipronged approach that includes emergency shelter, pathways to permanent housing and all the services that are needed in between for addiction, medical care and finding work,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. “No one government agency or service provider can meet all of these needs alone, but strong partnerships to implement proven models can make all the difference in people’s lives.”

The shelter is now offering medical and behavioral health services two nights per week, with much of the medical professionals coming from the University of New Mexico Hospital, said Carol Pierce, director of family and community services.

Centro S├ívila, a mental health center in Albuquerque’s South Valley, is providing behavioral health care at the shelter a couple of nights a week, Pierce said.

New Mexico Workforce Connections is providing career counseling in the new computer lab, according to a city news release.

The city on Tuesday didn’t provide contracts describing the scope of the new work those agencies are doing at the shelter.

For the first time, the housing center is operating year round. In the past, the old jail was open only in the winter months. The city has also increased the number of places where it picks up people in need of shelter and buses them to the site.

Pierce said about 285 to 300 people are currently staying at the facility each night. The emergency shelter can house a maximum of about 450 people, including men, women and families.

The city has budgeted about $4.4 million in contracts for the housing center’s operations, which include the costs to shuttle people to the shelter.

While the scope of services being offered at the shelter is increasing, the city is also looking to build a new one.

The city is asking for voters to approve $14 million in general obligation bond funding to start work on a centralized, 24/7 homeless shelter and services center, which is part of a $128.5 million capital program up for a vote in next month’s election.

“If we don’t step up and help with that bond issue, the homelessness challenge is going to get worse,” Keller said. “We’re asking people to take the first step.”

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