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Editorial: City lands 1-2 punch against homelessness

Albuquerque’s acquisition of the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson and its anticipated inclusion of 25 to 50 medical recovery beds is the double shot needed to finally tackle homelessness here in meaningful and long-term ways.

Albuquerque officials announced last week the city bought the former Lovelace hospital for $15 million to provide shelter and an array of services for the homeless. The working plan is to add 150 to 175 emergency shelter beds, plus 25 to 50 medically supervised beds for people with recovery needs. Both would be tremendous steps in the right direction.

Medical respite care is needed for people too ill or frail to recover from an illness or injury on the streets, but not ill enough to be in a hospital. Providing them medically supervised beds is a right-sized solution that should alleviate pressures on local hospitals and emergency rooms.

And the need for more emergency shelter is great. Over 900 people a night have at times been afforded emergency shelter at the city’s Westside Emergency Housing Center and five area “wellness” hotels during the pandemic. Back in mid-January, at the height of winter, the city network ran out of space for children and their families, creating a humanitarian crisis.

Mayor Tim Keller deserves credit for staying on top of the issue and securing the centerpiece to his promised Gateway Center. Exactly what the facility at 5400 Gibson SE will look like remains unknown. That’s OK; we expect some growing pains.

The city intends to keep the 572,000-square-foot building open for existing tenants, who occupy about a third of the property. That’s sound. Keeping $2.5 million in rental income and tax payments flowing in will offset operating and maintenance costs while long-term plans are laid.

City voters approved a $14 million bond in 2019 for a homeless facility. While steps remain before the city can open it, it’s great to finally see something tangible for the money. With an estimated 4,500 homeless people in Albuquerque pre-pandemic, we have a lot of need.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.