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City finalizes Gibson center purchase

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller speaks about the city’s recent acquisition of the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson. The city will use it for emergency shelter and other services for the homeless population. (Jessica Dyer/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The deal is finally done.

Now, officials say, the real work begins.

City of Albuquerque officials gathered with county and state leaders Tuesday to commemorate the city’s latest major purchase: a onetime Southeast Albuquerque hospital expected to eventually provide a range of services to people who are homeless. The just-completed $15 million acquisition makes the former Lovelace hospital the largest city-owned facility outside of the Albuquerque International Sunport.

Mayor Tim Keller has for years advocated for a new Gateway Center homeless shelter and services facility, and said Tuesday it is needed now more than ever. The city has seen unprecedented demand for emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, with its support network – including an existing West Side shelter and five area hotels – accommodating over 900 people on some nights during the pandemic.

“Like a few other things, we had a (homelessness) problem going into the pandemic and now the problem is even worse,” Keller said during a news conference at the Gibson property. “This facility could not come at a better time.”

But what exactly happens inside the vast facility at 5400 Gibson SE remains somewhat unknown.

The city intends to keep the building open for existing tenants who occupy about a third of the property’s 572,000 square feet, some of whom provide behavioral health services. They yield over $2.5 million in annual lease revenue, which Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael said will help offset the building’s operating and maintenance costs.

Elsewhere on the premises, officials have said the working plan includes adding 150-175 standard emergency shelter beds, plus a separate 25-50 beds specifically for people with medical recovery needs.

But even that is not set in stone.

Keller said the city would work with the community, local service providers and through its Homeless Coordinating Council – which includes Bernalillo County and University of New Mexico leaders – to map out a clearer vision in the coming months, but that his administration is willing to discover what makes the most sense through some trial and error.

“We’re going to test things; we’re going to experiment with things; we’re going to find out what works best over time,” the mayor said.

Officials said the cost and scope of necessary remodeling is not known yet since the programming has not been finalized.

Funding for the facility purchase and potential improvements includes $14 million from a voter-approved 2019 city bond question, $5 million from the city’s current year budget, about $1 million in past years’ state appropriations, $1 million from Bernalillo County bond proceeds and $500,000 in corporate contributions.

The county intends to provide additional support in the future, Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said.

County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, whose district includes the new Gateway Center, described it as an important community project. Citing both her own experience on the brink of homelessness and that of her uncle, who once struggled with addiction and homelessness, she said it has the potential to help many people in Albuquerque.

“If you grew up in Burque, then you know, or love, somebody who has needed services that this facility will provide,” Barboa said.

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