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Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says it is past time to make a major investment to combat homelessness, contending the pandemic has only worsened a pre-existing crisis and has made the city’s forthcoming Gateway Center even more necessary.
But some who live near the future shelter and services hub at 5400 Gibson SE argue that they have been overlooked in the planning process and are being asked to shoulder too big of a burden. About two dozen protested Friday near the site, holding signs with messages like “No input, no info, no faith in Gateway.”
Vera Watson, who lives in the nearby Parkland Hills neighborhood, said the city has concentrated too many social services in Southeast Albuquerque, which she believes contributes to crime. She said she voted for the bond question that generated $14 million for the Gateway Center and supports additional services for people who are homeless but feels the city has neglected the surrounding neighborhoods while advancing this project.
“I just think the mayor gave us his middle finger,” Watson said Friday.
The city says it has invited citizen input – including a 2019 town hall and online survey – and will engage Gibson-area residents specifically, having already begun trying to schedule neighborhood meetings for later this month.
“Our community has called on us loudly and clearly to take action and create compassionate solutions for the unhoused. As we enter the next stage of planning for this Gateway Center, we will work with surrounding neighborhoods and businesses to set up the facility to serve as a good neighbor,” city spokeswoman Kinsey Cooper said in a statement.
The city completed its $15 million purchase of the Gibson property – a 572,000-square-foot facility and onetime Lovelace hospital – about a week ago, and Keller said it would now work with the community, service providers and other public agencies to decide exactly how to use it.
But city officials already have offered some sense of their vision. During a meeting last month with Bernalillo County and University of New Mexico leaders, city representatives said the tentative strategy includes 150 to 175 standard shelter beds to accommodate men, women and families, plus 25 to 50 medical recovery beds.
Until last year, the city’s plan included a 300-bed shelter, but Keller’s administration changed course following community pushback and the city’s failure to secure its preferred site on UNM property. The mayor announced last May that the city would pursue alternatives, including spreading the needed shelter beds across a series of smaller Gateway facilities.
But critics say 150-175 beds is still too big.
And Siesta Hills neighborhood resident Anne White said she’s also concerned about making Gibson a 24/7 operation and the activity that could generate. She said she is hopeful the city will reconsider putting such a large operation in Southeast Albuquerque.
“We feel there are plenty of other spaces (to do this),” she said.
But not all neighbors object. Khadijah Bottom, president of the nearby South San Pedro Neighborhood Association and a member of the city’s Homeless Advisory Council, rejected the premise that people who are homeless drive crime, saying they are “not out shooting guns.” She said the area needs the Gateway Center and she is ready for it to launch.
“We already have (people who are homeless) wandering the street. Now we’ve got a place to put them in so they can get services,” Bottom said. “To me that would reduce crime.”