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As it seeks permission to establish an overnight shelter in the old Lovelace hospital, the city of Albuquerque now says it is looking to accommodate up to 100 individuals and 25 families on-site.
The details come ahead of the city’s Sept. 21 hearing to obtain a “conditional use” permit for the project. The numbers appear to address a lingering question about the eventual size of the Gateway Center’s emergency shelter operation, though one neighborhood leader said they are not precise enough, and the city acknowledges they are not necessarily final.
“I think that’s the community’s best thinking and our best thinking now in terms of setting some sort of marker. It’s a scenario that has gained the most traction as we’ve been doing community meetings,” said Alicia Manzano, the city’s liaison for strategic partnerships.
The city’s first Gateway Center has been years in the making and one of the highest-profile initiatives of Mayor Tim Keller’s first term.
His administration at one time envisioned a 24/7 shelter with 300 beds to serve all populations and link people to services and programs. Voters approved $14 million for the project as part of a 2019 general obligation bond package.
But officials moved away from the 300-bed model last year after losing out on their top location choice – University of New Mexico land north of Lomas Boulevard – and amid criticism that such scale might negatively impact the clients and the surrounding neighborhood.
Questions about capacity have continued swirling since the city this spring closed on the purchase of the old Lovelace hospital – a 572,000-square-foot building on Gibson Boulevard, which still has some on-site health care providers.
While city officials said earlier this year they were contemplating incorporating 150 to 175 emergency shelter beds into what they’re now calling the Gateway Center at Gibson Health Hub, some neighbors along the Gibson corridor had advocated for a cap of 30.
When the city last month released a draft operations plan, it did not address shelter capacity. Officials said they planned to have that information by the end of August.
In response to Journal inquiries this week, the city said in a statement that it is now considering an operation that gradually ramps up to 100 individuals and 25 families.
“We are still meeting with neighborhood groups and various stakeholders on the best scenario for bed capacity at Gibson Gateway Center. The scenario that seems to be getting the most traction is a phased approach which would accommodate about 25 families and 100 individuals when fully phased in. The phased approach will allow us to evaluate effectiveness and efficiency so we can adjust as needed,” Family and Community Services Department planning manager Bobby Sisneros said in a written statement.
Rachel Conger Baca, president of the nearby Siesta Hills Neighborhood Association, said “family” is not clear-cut, as it could mean anything from a single mother with one child to extended family units that would push the shelter’s total capacity to 200-plus.
“That still doesn’t sound too far off from a 300-bed facility,” said Baca, adding that she wants the city to set a specific capacity limit on the shelter prior to the Sept. 21 hearing.
She said the scale does not seem to jibe with the city’s goal of having a “trauma-informed” facility.
“We are convinced that the City keeps taking steps that will ensure trauma will be inflicted on the people using the shelter and those who live, work and go to school near it,” she said.