ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City is officially transforming the Gibson Medical Center into a Gateway Center for the homeless. The multi-million dollar project already has some residents pushing back. During a news conference Tuesday, Mayor Tim Keller said this facility – already home to some behavioral health services – will be an experiment in how best to help hundreds of Albuquerque’s homeless population.
“The City of Albuquerque has officially bought the Gibson Medical Center, the cornerstone of our Gateway Center network,” said Keller. “In total, this represents the largest capital investment that Albuquerque has ever made for the unhoused.”
A long time in the making, the old Lovelace Hospital – now Gibson Medical Center – will be a new place to stay for the homeless in the area. The city says while they’ve placed some in the Westside Shelter and into area hotels, it’s just not enough, but this new facility will help.
“We have roughly 5,000 homeless people. It depends how you count them, it depends what you call them, unhoused, homeless, unsheltered, folks in need,” said Keller. “At the end of the day, we know we need at least 500 more beds and that’s even more than this whole facility can handle.”
The Gibson Medical Center was under lease by the State of New Mexico for $8.6 million who was using the building as an overflow hospital for COVID-19 patients. This decision to transition it into homeless housing comes nearly two years after voters approved $14 million for a 24/7 homeless center.
As for how they’ll get homeless in other areas like downtown and Nob Hill into this facility, they plan to use the Community Support Shuttle to transport them. Still, some residents say it’s only going to cause more problems in the area.
“I just don’t think it was fair that it was thrown onto us without getting any input or allowing us to hear about it or allowing us to say something about it,” said Tony Lopez, who lives in the nearby Siesta Hills neighborhood. “It’s really frustrating for us because we already have an issue here at the present moment and they’ve got to find a better place which is away from neighborhoods.”
Others wish the facility would be used on a smaller scale to service a few dozen women and children, rather than a few hundred people. They’re worried about how a “mega-shelter” will impact the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of people that say, ‘not in my backyard’ but can say, ‘yes we need homeless help.’ The problem comes when the mayor put out the survey asking residents where should this go, what are the services we need, what are the qualifications,” said Tamaya Toulouse who lives in the Siesta Hills neighborhood. “If we’re going to house and train and help the homeless, it has to be in a responsible way with an actual plan and that’s what we’re asking for. A plan that has community input that they actually have to take into account.”
Mayor Keller says they plan to take community input in the future. However, either way, the facility will be used to service the homeless population.
“For us, this is actually about doing something,” said Keller. “Not just talking about it, not just discussing it, not just arguing about the details.”
Tuesday evening, the Bernalillo County Commission plans to vote on contributing $1 million to the purchase and renovations for the Gateway Center. The mayor did not give an exact date when the Gateway Center would open. In his budget proposal, it would cost nearly $5 million per year to run.
Last year, a report detailed everything the Homeless Coordinating Council stated was necessary to move forward with the project. The City of Albuquerque requested $30 million for the Gateway Center through the state’s capital outlay process in February. The HCC’s next meeting is set for April 13 and local residents like Toulouse say they plan on giving neighborhood input to the Gateway Center project.