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Council strikes down shelter capacity limits

The city plans to create a Gateway Center shelter and services center at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque officials can continue planning the Gateway Center unfettered by ordinance-mandated bed limits after the City Council struck down a proposal that would have capped capacity at homeless shelters.

Councilor Pat Davis’ proposal that would have restricted overnight shelters to 10, 30 or 100 beds based on zoning – with the potential to double if certain conditions were met – failed on a 1-8 vote during a special City Council meeting Thursday.

Davis proposed the limits as part of the council’s annual update to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance.

There are currently no shelter capacity restrictions in the IDO, but the issue has garnered attention as the city plans its Gateway Center shelter and services hub in Davis’ Southeast Albuquerque district.

The city recently purchased the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson Boulevard for the project.

While the city has yet to reveal a complete operational plan, officials in Mayor Tim Keller’s administration have indicated the site might accommodate 150 to 175 shelter beds.

Had Davis’ proposal passed, the city would have been restricted to 60 beds at the facility.

Davis said the limits would prevent shelters from “warehousing” people and from overwhelming individual neighborhoods.

It would help the city “be sure with any new shelters we’re opening that they open with a capacity that can be maintained by a neighborhood’s carrying capacity,” he said.

But the proposal failed to garner any additional council support.

Councilor Diane Gibson said she found it problematic. “It almost feels like we are trying to limit people (in one area) because of their condition,” she said.

While the council’s decision was lopsided, public comments were more evenly split.

Several people spoke in favor of the proposal, with some arguing that the neighborhoods around the Gateway Center already have a higher concentration of social services than other parts of Albuquerque.

“How much is too much for one section to take while affluent neighborhoods escape their fair share?” Raven Del Rio said.

But other speakers objected to the capacity restrictions, saying it could hamper efforts to address the growing number of people who are homeless.

“For a successful response to homelessness, we do not want to see further complications and barriers to the development of shelters through added regulation,” said Brie Sillery, who said she was representing the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.

Keller’s administration on Thursday praised the council’s decision.

“While so many of our neighbors struggle to find shelter and support, we should be focused on how we can provide compassionate care to those in need, not how quickly we should start turning people away,” Albuquerque Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce said in a written statement.

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