The city says it has a ‘good neighbor agreement’ for its new homeless shelter. It’s missing 3 signatures. - Albuquerque Journal

The city says it has a ‘good neighbor agreement’ for its new homeless shelter. It’s missing 3 signatures.

The city aims to open its Gateway Center shelter at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson early next year. (Liam DeBonis/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The city says it has finalized a “Good Neighbor Agreement” for its Gateway Center project in Southeast Albuquerque, but agreement – in this case – is not universal.

Three neighborhood associations near the planned homeless shelter and services hub declined to sign the document, saying it did not address some of their chief concerns.

One association president said she was “highly, highly discouraged” with the negotiation process, which went dormant for months this summer when the city called off planned meetings. Talks resumed in October and ended in mid-November, at which time the city’s Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce said the city was done negotiating.

Elder Homestead Neighborhood Association President Sandra Perea said the resulting document did not represent a true give-and-take and was too vague overall.

“It’s just an overall slap in the face to the people who have invested time and money in this area,” said Perea, whose peers with Siesta Hills and Parkland Hills also did not sign the agreement.

A city spokeswoman attributed the summer lapse to a scheduling conflict with the facilitator. She said the agreement is final, but that it calls for continued conversations with those who live nearby and that the first such meeting is planned for December.

“The Good Neighbor Agreement is the beginning of (the) conversation, not end,” spokeswoman Katie Simon said in a written response to Journal questions. “The agreement is the baseline upon which we’re building a dynamic working relationship.”

The agreement did satisfy some who live nearby. Three parties signed the Gateway agreement: the Trumbull Village and South San Pedro neighborhood association presidents, as well as the District 6 Coalition leader.

Joanne Landry, president of Trumbull Village, said she believed the agreement adequately protected the neighborhoods and that city officials verbally addressed many of the other neighbors’ concerns.

“They basically laid it out over and over and over again, and it doesn’t matter how they laid it out, these other associations had already made up their mind they didn’t want to sign it until some of the language was changed,” Landry said.

The Gateway Center is a planned shelter inside the former Lovelace Hospital at 5400 Gibson SE. The city bought the large property last year and dubbed it the Gibson Health Hub, noting that the shelter – slated to open in early 2023 with beds for 50 women – is just one element of the larger vision. Several tenants, including health care providers, already operate in the building, and the city also plans to add a sobering center and a “medical respite” unit for people who have no other place to heal or recover from injury or illness.

The Good Neighbor Agreement explains the Gateway’s purpose and stipulates that the city will:

• Provide 24/7 professional security at the site, including a security car and closed-circuit TV cameras

• Improve exterior lighting, and keep the property “clean and orderly”

• Establish “clear and reliable” ways for the surrounding community to communicate about the site

• Hold monthly planning meetings with the neighborhood

• Set up an on-site office for the city’s encampment team, with two employees to monitor the area within a quarter-mile radius and remove illegal encampments, as permitted by policy

• Conduct a road audit of Gibson and San Mateo to assess conditions, reviewing and prioritizing recommendations “to encourage compliance with traffic laws and pedestrian safety”

• Study current public transportation access to the area and consider potential modifications

Siesta Hills President Rachel Baca said she and others wanted the city to include a facility capacity limit, a guarantee the city would not permit any sanctioned homeless encampments in the vicinity and language making clear the Gateway will not function as a walk-up meal site. None of that was included.

“I wouldn’t say they didn’t listen to us,” Baca said. “They were hearing us, (but) they were telling us that’s absolutely not going to happen.”

The city has said it intends to eventually offer 250 shelter beds at the Gateway, plus 40 beds each for sobering and medical respite, but a spokeswoman said it intentionally avoided setting a maximum capacity in the neighborhood agreement to ensure flexibility moving forward.

“We can’t put limits on ourselves,” spokeswoman Simon said. “We have to be able to respond to all situations.”

Simon emphasized that the center intends to serve clients on a referral-only basis – as opposed to walk-ups – though the city did not include it in the agreement.

Baca said the current city leadership may plan to run the facility that way, but that future city administrations could do it differently since the details are not in a signed, written agreement. Without the checks and balances that come with such a document, she said she worries the shelter will attract problems, drive out businesses and turn the area into a “wasteland.”

“Things will get bad if they don’t agree to do some things, and you don’t have to use your imagination to project it,” she said.

Landry with Trumbull Village, however, said she is eager for Gateway to open. As someone who works directly with people who are homeless by running a shelter at her church – which has received city support in the past but, she said, is not currently getting city funding – Landry said the community desperately needs the Gateway and the resources it will provide. She said she asked a number of questions about the plan – including how the Gateway would deal with potential on-site overdoses and clients’ shopping carts – and is satisfied with what she’s heard.

“I care about getting these people off the streets and getting them out of their tents on the sidewalk,” she said.

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