UNM a 'no' on city homeless shelter - Albuquerque Journal

UNM a ‘no’ on city homeless shelter

It’s down to two.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office announced Friday that the University of New Mexico is “no longer interested” in using its land for a new city homeless shelter, leaving his administration to consider two other candidates for the project.

The vacant UNM parcel, east of Interstate 25 and north of Lomas, had emerged as the city’s preferred location for a planned 24/7 “Gateway Center” shelter.

Albuquerque officials say they are now looking at two separate sites they had identified as top contenders: Coronado Park, a city-owned park at Third and Interstate 40; and the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson, which is privately owned.

The city had in February named the three locations as finalists for the shelter – a facility officials have said will sleep about 300 people per night, and also link them to resources needed to achieve stability and find permanent housing.

Though some in the UNM community had shown support for building on university land, the idea also created a swell of opposition.

“We want to do everything we can by way of services, but we did not feel the preferred site from the city was appropriate for our campus,” UNM Regent President Doug Brown said Friday. “We had an enormous amount of resistance from neighborhoods, the (UNM Comprehensive) Cancer Center, the Children’s Campus and so on.”

Brown said the university has received a considerable number of emails and letters urging officials not to allow the shelter to be built on campus. The university’s Campus Safety Council, a group that includes the dean of students, student body president and chief of campus police, was among the groups that sent a letter which strongly suggested that the shelter not be built anywhere at UNM.

People who live nearby also asked UNM not to invite the shelter. Several members of the Spruce Park neighborhood attended a regents meeting on Monday and asked the board not to allow the facility to be built at the proposed UNM location; they also sent a letter in opposition to the plan to the university.

Brown said UNM President Garnett Stokes relayed the school’s ultimate decision in a conversation with the mayor.

Stokes did not respond to a Journal request for an interview Friday, but provided a statement.

“In listening to the University community, it is clear that many people support UNM being a part of tackling the issue of homelessness and serving the various vulnerable populations in our City. Regarding the proposed use of UNM land, there was not a single variable that led to this decision. Ultimately, our concerns about enrollment and future needs of our health system had to be considered in our determination of whether the UNM site was appropriate for the City’s plans,” she said.

Sarita Nair, Albuquerque’s chief administrative officer, said she was disappointed in the outcome.

“It wasn’t just our top selection, but throughout all of the vetting processes and all of the community input, it emerged as one of the top three sites,” she said.

Combination of sites

The city says it will now look closer at the two remaining options and may consider somehow using both. Critics of the city’s 300-bed shelter plan have instead proposed building a series of smaller facilities that would serve more targeted populations.

“For all our public institutions, there is a moral opportunity to come together and make a difference on a growing problem that affects the entire community,” Keller said in a statement Friday afternoon. “With this option now off the table, we are convening elected officials from the City and (Bernalillo) County, as well as UNM, to work with us on the remaining options, or a possible combination of sites. We are continuing our collaborative efforts and are also dedicated to doing all we can with the funds we have to make a dent in all of our homelessness challenges.”

Officials estimate that approximately 5,000 households experience homelessness over the course of a year in Albuquerque.

In November, city voters approved $14 million in general obligation bond funding to create the Gateway Center. The city has spent the past few months trying to pick a location by taking public feedback and evaluating potential sites based on such criteria as cost, and access to services and transportation.

An internal rating process yielded the three finalists.

Building a shelter at Coronado Park would cost an estimated $12.7 million, while establishing a shelter at Lovelace would cost about $14 million, according to a report the city issued last month.

Nair said further evaluation will require “drilling down a little bit more on actual costs and feasibility” of each prospect.

In the case of Coronado Park, the city would need to purchase adjacent property to have a site large enough for the facility.

Officials have long anticipated that any shelter location would elicit opposition, which has been the case.

“We’ve always known we’re going to have to work closely with any neighbors of any facility to make sure that we are addressing their security concerns, their concerns about the appearance of the facility, so that’s going to happen no matter where this thing goes,” she said.

Like those who live around UNM, residents near Coronado Park say they do not want the Gateway Center.

Wells Park Neighborhood Association President Doreen McKnight said Friday the area is already grappling with a large concentration of homeless people. The city currently uses Coronado Park as a meeting place for people taking the bus to its existing shelter on the far West Side, and the area is also home to other organizations that serve homeless people.

She said residents’ pleas for help addressing the associated issues have gone largely unanswered and the neighborhood association is “adamantly” against the city developing another major project geared toward homeless people in the area.

“While we absolutely see the need for a new shelter, and we support it and think it needs to be done, we have shouldered the brunt of concentrated homelessness in the area for decades with no real substantial help from the city,” she said, adding that the association has voted to oppose placing the shelter anywhere in the city unless there are matching funds deployed to the selected location to help with infrastructure and to mitigate any potential problems.

Journal Staff Writer Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.

 

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