Mayor’s Gibson homeless shelter plan sparks neighborhood debate

Albuquerque News

Correction Issued Below

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Gibson Medical Center in southeast Albuquerque is currently being used as a COVID-overflow facility. However, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller recently announced plans to try and purchase the facility for the proposed Gateway Center homeless shelter.

Neighbors are now sounding off both in support and against those plans. The debate has sparked hundreds of comments online, and an online petition against using the facility as a multi-service homeless shelter. The petition was created before the 300-bed shelter idea was taken off the table, and resurfaced online after the Mayor’s recent announcement. “We are moving forward to negotiate the purchase of the Gibson Medical Center,” Mayor Keller announced during a news conference on December 8.

Since that announcement last week, neighbors who live near the old Lovelace Hospital have been passionately debating online both for and against the city’s idea of using the facility near Gibson and San Mateo for a 24-7, multi-service Gateway Center homeless shelter. “I don’t think large-scale homeless shelter is beneficial for anyone,” said Chuck Malagodi. He’s lived in the area for more than 24 years. “I’m for more smaller, individualized services, especially given that we’re in the middle of COVID.”

Others support the idea, arguing it’s mostly vacant anyway, and could create a safe place for people off the streets. “It has to start somewhere and it has to start where it is affordable and needed,” one neighbor wrote.

According to the city’s press release, “The building presents a versatile range of options for potential use by multiple healthcare and social service providers, and will immediately ease the pressure on the system of care created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Plans so far, include:

  • A 24/7 drop-off for first responders and safety officers
  • On-site medical and behavioral health services
  • Short-term emergency shelter
  • Direct physical connection for Veteran’s experiencing homelessness to the VA
  • Links to other needed services
  • A pathway to permanent housing

Right now, the state is renting the Gibson Medical Center for $8.6 million through April 2021 and using the site for recovering COVID-patient overflow space. “When you’re seeing what’s happened to Second Street and Wells Park, safety is a real issue over there,” said Kristin Greene. She’s lived in the area for 11 years. Greene started an online petition against putting the Gateway Shelter at Gibson. So far, it has 353 signatures.

Even though the city stated the original 300-bed shelter is off the table, Greene and others worry Mayor Keller’s latest idea isn’t the answer to Albuquerque’s homeless problem. “We’ve faced a pattern of neglect for about the last three or four decades in that area,” said Greene. “It will magnetize the area for people who are potentially looking for a one night place to stay, or free food, or what have you, but have no intention of getting off the street. I have no faith that they’ll mitigate issues in our neighborhood,” she added.

Homeless in Albuquerque Dec. 16, 2020

Mayor Keller hasn’t said how many beds will be used to house the homeless, or how much the city may spend to buy the building. However, a price presented to lawmakers in 2017 listed the property at $16 million.

“Until we have that 24-7, we’re gonna continue to see huge challenges when it comes to homelessness,” said Mayor Keller, during his December 8 news conference. “And this is an argument that I’ve made publicly, hundreds of times.”

A city council memo drafted just this week points out the city will have to apply for a ‘Conditional Use’ in order to use the Gibson center as an overnight shelter. That process will require a public hearing and more input from neighbors, which would likely take place after the city buys the building.

Voters approved $14 million in bond funds for the homeless project, but it’s unclear how much of that money the city may use to purchase the facility. More information about what the Homeless Coordinating Council proposed can be found in its Coordinated Housing and Services Framework document.

Read City Council Memo

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the city will have to apply for a zoning change in order to use the Gibson center as an overnight shelter. The site will likely need a “conditional use,” not a “zone change.”

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