Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
University of New Mexico students return to classes this week, and one of the things on their to-do list will be a survey about a possible homeless shelter going up on university land.
It was recently announced that UNM land near Lomas and Interstate 25 is one of five potential sites the city has floated, so far, for a new homeless shelter. The university was the second-highest rated site after the city did an initial survey of possible spots for the “Gateway Center.”
Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center and chief executive officer of the UNM Health System, said the university has plans to survey students and employees about the idea some time soon, possibly this week. He thinks UNM’s land would have several advantages over other sites.
“The connection with the HSC is that many of that same population are our patients,” he said in an interview. “The UNM site, I thought, was a reasonable option to consider because of the nearness to health and mental health facilities. And it would make it a lot easier for our (emergency room), after we patch folks up and take care of their medical conditions … to be able to discharge them to at least a temporary, safe shelter.”
Roth said a couple of years ago he led a subcommittee for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce during which he visited several other cities and saw efforts to help their homeless populations. He said it was during that course of work that the need for a shelter in Albuquerque located closer to services, such as different types of health care, as well as food and clothing, became apparent.
The university property being considered is currently undeveloped land south of the building that houses the Office of the Medical Investigator, just east of I-25 near Lomas. Roth said the space has many of the desired traits in a possible site for a homeless shelter – one being that it would be close to the emergency room and a psychiatric hospital at UNM.
The other possible sites for the Gateway Center are the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson, Montessa Park south of the airport, the Interstate 40/Second Street area, and the city’s current shelter location on the far West Side. Voters approved $14 million in general obligation bonds for a facility last November.
“When I brought this up to all the chairs with the School of Medicine … there was very strong support, among leadership at least,” Roth said. “But we plan to reach out to other employees and students.”
Dr. Cheryl Willman, director of the UNM Cancer Center, said in emails obtained by KRQE-TV that many university doctors and other employees are concerned about the shelter bordering their offices. Willman couldn’t be reached by the Journal last week.
Others have voiced support for putting the shelter at UNM.
“We are very much in favor of having a shelter because many of our patients don’t have a place to go,” said Dr. Mauricio Tohen, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UNMH. “When patients with psychiatric conditions don’t have a place to stay, they are more likely to relapse and not follow through with their treatment.”