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Years in the making, Albuquerque’s Gateway Center should finally open its doors some time this winter inside the old Lovelace hospital.
Though the project’s homeless shelter has garnered the most public attention, officials say it’s another element that could have the most profound impact on the community: the “first responder dropoff.”
Albuquerque Family and Community Services Department Director Carol Pierce said the city has selected the nonprofit Heading Home to run the 24/7 operation, which aims to serve people picked up by police or other first responders, but who do not belong in the emergency room or jail. That includes those who are intoxicated, dealing with mental illness or are found, as Pierce said, “down and out” somewhere in the city.
Pierce called the dropoff “a huge piece of this puzzle.”
The dropoff will have four beds of its own, but is primarily imagined as a funnel into other services. While that likely will include other on-site services – the city has several components planned for the property – officials say it will also help move people to a range of other destinations, including different local shelters, or even the Bernalillo County-run CARE Campus, which offers detoxification and other programs.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the dropoff is a “disproportionately” important part of the Gateway Center now being established inside the old hospital in Southeast Albuquerque.
“We have to have a 24/7 low-barrier, first-responder dropoff,” Keller said in a recent meeting with Journal editors and reporters, saying the project fills a massive gap. “Until we have that, we’ll never see a significant difference in what’s happening throughout our system.”
The city estimates 1,500 people could come through the drop-off each year.
Keller has pitched the Gateway Center since his early days in office, and city voters in 2019 approved $14 million to help fund it. A changing vision, difficulty finding a location and some neighborhood opposition around the chosen Gibson Boulevard site have slowed progress.
But the city now says recent interior demolition has readied the 572,000-square-foot building for shelter construction. The first phase will feature 50 emergency shelter beds exclusively for women. Those beds and the first responder dropoff should come online this winter.
The city plans to launch other elements by next summer. The estimated $14 million first-phase of construction will also include 20 beds for medical respite – providing people without other options a place to recuperate from illness or injury. It also includes 20 beds for medically supervised sobering.
But the city will continue adding capacity, with ultimate plans to have a total of 250 emergency shelter beds, and 40 each of medical sobering and medical respite beds.
Counting the other outside providers who lease space inside the building, city officials say the property’s impact could be significant.
“How many people did Lovelace help every day (when it was a hospital)? The answer is about a thousand,” Keller said. “We’re on track to do roughly the same thing.”