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The city of Albuquerque’s COVID-19 emergency shelter system has run out of room for families, officials said Tuesday.
Despite expanding capacity by adding a network of “wellness” hotels, Albuquerque Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce said the city has maxed out the space it has available for families who are homeless.
“We don’t have more rooms available,” she said Tuesday morning during a Homeless Coordinating Council meeting with city, Bernalillo County and University of New Mexico leaders. “As soon as one comes up, they are rapidly filled.”
While there is still room for adult men and adult women, the family units are full with what Pierce called a “staggering” number of children.
In the past, Pierce said, the city’s Westside Emergency Housing Center would at most serve 25 children at a time.
But the 768 people in the system this week include 87 families with 186 children.
The pandemic has prompted the city to adjust how it shelters individuals and families who are homeless. The city-owned, 450-bed shelter on the far West Side has cut capacity by approximately half to help clients socially distance. That included eliminating the shelter’s “family pod.”
However, the city ultimately boosted shelter capacity by renting out hotels.
It has moved families and certain other clients – including individuals at high risk for COVID-19 complications and those exposed to the virus or showing symptoms – away from the general shelter population and into the hotels. The city, in partnership with such other agencies as the county and the state, has established five such hotel operations.
As of Tuesday, the shelter-hotel system was accommodating 768 people, a city spokesman said.
“This pandemic is making the crisis of families who are homeless more visible than ever, and it’s really quite heartbreaking,” Pierce said.
The cold weather may also be a factor in the current situation, as FCS spokesman Bobby Sisneros said the city always sees shelter use rise during the winter.
When families come looking for shelter, but the city has run out of room, Sisneros said, the city helps connect them to case managers, who can help find alternative accommodations. In some cases, he said, that may even include a voucher to stay in a different hotel.
The city distributes such vouchers through partner organizations throughout the community, but it could not provide exact numbers Wednesday.
The city is also working with partner agencies to move people directly from the wellness hotels into permanent housing using city-funded vouchers that cover up to a year’s worth of rent. Pierce said that effort has placed three or four families in permanent housing.