ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Albuquerque is looking for the next green light in getting ready to open phase one of the Gateway Center in spring. The contract with Heading Home, the non-profit set to operate the shelter, will soon go in front of the city council.

“They are going to be our real, our boots on the ground providing services to the people who are going to be residents of this program,” said Katie Simon, Public Affairs Specialist for the city’s Family and Community Services Department.

The Mayor’s Administration is asking for $1,094,370 for the contract, which funds Heading Home operating phase one of the center. Phase one includes opening 50 beds for women.

“I’m really excited because, for the first time, we’ll be able to bring in specifically women into phase one, who have been banded together out on the street and have not had a safe place to go where they could stay together as a group,” said Steve Decker, CEO of Heading Home. “We’ll be able to give them their own pod; they’ll be able to stay together as their social group. It’s unlike any other shelter program where people are forcibly separated because it’s a congregate shelter.”

The funding also goes towards operating the 24/7 receiving area, which allows first responders to drop off someone in need at any time.

“It’s going to be brand new to our community and really help alleviate a lot of the pressure on emergency rooms because that’s really the only place to take those folks right now,” said Simon.

Lastly, the legislation would fund 50 emergency winter beds at the Gateway Center until April 3, to help with the demand the Westside Shelter sees during winter.

“That is the largest shelter in the state. Typical capacity is around 450 people. I’ve seen it go as high as 700 on a really bad winter storm night,” said Decker. With the phase one opening slated for spring, Heading Home is trying to staffing up.

“We’re actually hiring people like crazy. We’ve been posting positions in order to have three employees, 24/7, seven days a week, you really have to have 15 full-time employees to cover all of those shifts,” said Decker. “We’re paying substantially above minimum wage for people who have no experience. We’re happy to train them, just getting the applicants is the hardest part.”

The Gateway Center is program-driven and not a walk-up facility. Anyone looking to stay and receive services must be referred.

“The biggest misconception about the Gateway Program is people envision it going to be lines of people looking to get services at the Gibson Health Hub, that it will become an encampment outside that building, and everything that we’ve done with the city has been to make sure that never happens. An example being that everyone has to be referred in, there is no walk-up service,” said Decker. He’s excited to offer the new resource to the community.

“This is a big opportunity to really look at how do we get people off the street permanently. That’s different from just your typical emergency shelter, and that’s really exciting to me,” he said. “Operating emergency shelters will never change the number of people experiencing homelessness at all. If we want to really get people off the street, we have to actually have to provide the longer-term solutions.”

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While Heading Home is slated to run the Gateway Center for at least three years, this contract only runs through the end of the fiscal year, or June 30, 2023. New contracts with different funding may be needed moving forward. The bill will be introduced to the city council at their meeting on Wednesday.