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City releases top three choices for new homeless shelter

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

After scoring 30 locations on such criteria as cost and transportation access, the city of Albuquerque has announced the top three options for its new 24/7 homeless shelter – and it is leaving open the possibility that it might choose more than one.

The Gateway Center finalists are:

UNM land near Camino de Salud and I 25

• University of New Mexico land next to the state laboratory (near Interstate 25 and Camino de Salud)

Coronado Park near Third Street and I-40

• Coronado Park at Third Street and Interstate 40

Former Lovelace Medical Center on Gibson Blvd

• The former Lovelace hospital on Gibson

The Gateway Center has been described as a place to accommodate about 300 people and direct clients to resources they could use to obtain permanent housing. It has also been billed as a replacement for the city’s existing shelter on the far West Side.

But officials from the city’s Family and Community Services Department said Thursday that many shelter details are not yet set. That means there is a chance the city creates multiple smaller shelters at different locations and keeps the West Side location open for overflow purposes.

“All these options remain on the table,” Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director for Housing and Homelessness said.

As part of the report identifying the finalists, the city included three “conceptual site plans” for the UNM site, but none of the others – something that generated questions Thursday during a joint government board meeting of officials from the city, Bernalillo County and Albuquerque Public Schools.

“To me, looking at this report … I’m seeing this decision has been made – this is where you want it,” City Councilor Brook Bassan said of UNM.

But Sarita Nair, chief administrative officer for Mayor Tim Keller, stressed to the board that the decision-making is ongoing and that publicly identifying three finalists was just the latest effort to keep the community informed.

“We’ve gotten a lot of criticism over the past two years about ‘Why didn’t you talk to us about XYZ?’ So we’re just trying to be better at communicating,” she said. “Instead of waiting until we have all the answers, (we’re) coming to the public, the media and to our partners with that next round of information.”

University leaders have taken mixed positions on whether its land should be considered.

Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center and chief executive officer of the UNM Health System, has said there are several advantages to using the UNM land for the homeless shelter, specifically its proximity to health and behavioral health facilities.

UNM’s Campus Safety Council – which comprises the dean of students, student body president, chief of university police and others – voted overwhelmingly last month to recommend the university not allow it anywhere at UNM. The council said in a letter to UNM President Garnett Stokes that the facility could create a dangerous situation for students, burden campus police and hurt the school’s already declining enrollment.

Stokes has said that she will keep an open mind about the proposal, and gather input from the campus community and others before making a recommendation to the Board of Regents. She has made it clear during public forums on the topic that no decision has been made.

UNM is currently conducting a survey of the proposed shelter. A questionnaire was sent to everyone with an official UNM email address.

“It is an open question whether the gateway facility will be placed on our campus,” Stokes said previously. “There is much that remains to be considered, including your feedback and your perspective.”

Stokes couldn’t be reached for additional comment Thursday night.

Any of the potential sites is likely to draw some pushback and County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley told city officials they must coordinate directly with the chosen neighborhood during the planning process.

“You’ve got to work with the neighborhoods in order to get something like this done,” she said.

The president of the Near North Valley Neighborhood Association – which is on the other side of Interstate 40 from Coronado Park – said at Thursday’s meeting that the area has already seen problems due to the park’s existing concentration of people who are homeless. She said residents have for years raised concerns with the city, but have seen little improvement, and that the association could not support any shelter site unless the city invests just as much in the chosen neighborhood “to address the negative (shelter) impacts” as it does the shelter itself.

“It’s a holistic approach to the problem,” Marit Tully said. “We’re not just taking care of the homeless, but you’re taking care of the whole community.”

Huval said the goal is to select a location and begin work with the affected neighborhoods this spring.

The latest timeline calls for breaking ground in the summer of 2021 and starting operations in the spring of 2022.

The city said Thursday that 149 potential sites were identified by the city and through a community feedback process that began late last year. Only 30 were specific enough to map and also garnered at least five votes from the public. The city then scored the 30 “based on ownership of the location, lot size, zoning, acquisition cost, access to transportation, and proximity to services,” according to a release.

According to the city’s analysis, the UNM land would be free and development cost would be $12.4 million. Lovelace would be $14 million in acquisition and renovation costs. Building at Coronado Park – where the city would need to buy abutting land to have enough space – would cost a total of $12.7 million, according to the city report.

Of the five that scored the highest on the city’s rankings, two were eliminated due to acquisition cost, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which is on the market for $16 million.

Voters approved $14 million in last year’s general obligation bond election for the project.

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