City looks to boost numbers at westside homeless shelter

The city is paying big bucks to keep the westside homeless shelter open year-round, but unlike private shelters around Albuquerque, this one isn’t even close to filling up every night.

“We do want more people to use the shelter, particularly because there’s beds available out there,” Lisa Huval with the Department of Family and Community Services said.

The city is now investing $4 million annually to operate the far Westside Emergency Shelter year-round and for 24 hours on the weekends to help get the homeless off the streets.

However, the department said in the last two weeks of April, the 400-bed shelter averaged 115 empty beds per night. That’s 70 more open spots per night than in the winter.

“We were not surprised to see the numbers drop a little bit as the weather warmed up,” Huval said. “As the shelter becomes more than a place to sleep, but also a place where you can access some really important services, we hope to see the numbers increase.”

She said to boost numbers, the UNM Health Sciences Center will start offering medical services there, and the county will offer resources as part of its behavioral health initiative this spring.

Despite the lower turnout on the west side, people said it’s still worth keeping the shelter open. “I don’t know what other solution there would be,” Jovani Boyd of Albuquerque said.

“We think there’s about 500 folks that are sleeping outside every night, so if the shelter were to close, you know, we would see that number increase dramatically,” Huval added.

The Family and Community Services Department said there are people who don’t want the help or the rules at a shelter.

“For some of them, we know there’s stuff going on, like because of trauma or mental health issues, sometimes the shelter doesn’t seem like a safe place for them. It’s hard to be around so many people,” Huval explained. That work needs to be done on the street level.

The city is working on new rules to clear homeless camps from public property, but there’s currently no timeframe to take that draft ordinance to city council. The department also has an outreach coordinator who works to connect the homeless with helpful resources.

“Part of his role is as an outreach person, is to go out there and talk to folks, try to really build a relationship with them, engage them, so that we can make referrals to services that they do want and need. So the long-term goal is to help folks move to the shelter, convince them that that would be a helpful option for them,” Huval said.

This fall, the city will ask voters if they want to approve $14 million in bond money for a centrally-located homeless shelter. 

“We do think that folks will be more likely to use something that’s more easily accessible,” Huval stated.

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