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Survey shows: I-40/2nd Street choice for new homeless shelter

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Interstate 40 and Second Street is the preferred place to put the city’s new homeless shelter – at least according to a new city of Albuquerque survey.

More of the 3,000-plus respondents chose the I-40/Second Street area than any other potential shelter location. No other site received half as many votes.

But officials say they continue to evaluate multiple locations for the project, which Mayor Tim Keller wants to start building next winter.

The data comes from an online survey the city conducted in advance of building a “Gateway Center” – a new 24/7 homeless shelter meant to sleep around 300 people, and guide them toward permanent housing and available resources.

The survey, which closed Jan. 15 after seven weeks online, generated more than 3,200 responses.

Participants were asked a series of multiple choice questions, including their preferred location for the new shelter. Of the 10 possible options listed – including an “other” category – about 31% of respondents chose the Interstate 40 and Second Street area.

That area is in the same general vicinity as Coronado Park, a city park that attracts many people who are homeless. The city currently uses the park as a pickup location for those seeking bus rides to the West Side shelter.

Another 9% voted for “other location in the Downtown area.”

No other site had the same level of support.

The second-most popular choices were the area near the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center laboratory and the city’s existing West Side emergency shelter. They both earned about 15% of the vote.

The UNM site – located east of Interstate 25 and north of Lomas – has scored well in other public assessments.

But Carol Pierce, director of the city’s Family and Community Services Department, said the West Side shelter makes little sense as a long-term prospect given what the community wants in such a shelter.

For example, survey participants overwhelmingly chose “easy access to support,” such as medical and mental health care, and “easy access to transportation” as criteria the city should consider when deciding where to build the new shelter. The city’s West Side shelter is 20 miles from Downtown and the city must pay to bus clients back and forth.

Pierce said the city included the West Side shelter site as a survey option only because it’s already in the city’s inventory. While the city has not completely ruled it out for future use, she said its limitations are clear.

“To have that be the main facility, given the lack of access to services, would be problematic,” she said.

The survey represents the latest round of public input gathered as part of the planning process for a new, centralized, round-the-clock shelter.

Keller has heralded the new facility as a key component of the city’s plan to address homelessness. City voters in November approved spending $14 million on the project and Albuquerque leaders are lobbying state lawmakers for an additional $14 million during the current legislative session.

But no decision has been made about where to build it.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said Monday that the administration plans to discuss sites with the City Council at a meeting in March.

The city began soliciting community feedback late last year.

That includes a December public meeting that drew about 180 people, focus groups with people who have experience being homeless, and the survey.

During the December public session, participants rated the UNM laboratory area and the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson the highest based on shelter criteria.

The city did not list the old Lovelace hospital as a multiple-choice option on the online survey because it did not yet have permission from the building’s ownership.

But 42 people who took the survey proactively wrote it in as an option and it remains under consideration, Pierce said.

Pierce said the city’s ongoing site evaluation is wide-ranging, as new possibilities continue to emerge.

“We’ve been getting calls, and people on this survey identified a lot of different sites, so we’re taking that all in the funnel, if you will, to look at that against the criteria,” she said. “That’s what we’ve got to do first before we boil it down for the fiscal analysis.”

She said the city will soon study the financial implications of several different sites, a step that will occur before Keller’s administration makes any recommendations to the City Council.

The survey also showed the community overwhelmingly wants the shelter to prioritize on-site mental health and substance abuse counseling.

It also asked what the city should consider to minimize the shelter’s impact on its neighborhood, and 81% of respondents checked “appropriate public safety presence” and 67% said on-site security.

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