ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As the City of Albuquerque inches closer toward figuring out where a future homeless shelter could go, the mayor is responding to concerns about whether the project will bring crime with it.

At a news conference on Friday, Mayor Tim Keller defended the Gateway Center homeless shelter project and how it will affect potential neighbors.

“We want to remind folks the reason why we are doing this is to get these folks and to get them off the streets,” Keller said.

The mayor’s statement comes as the city has released its final report analyzing public input on “location preferences” for the future shelter. The $14 million proposed project could house as many as 300 people experiencing homelessness.

“We have roughly $14-million that we want to invest in a 24/7 facility that is low barrier to entry and that is centrally located in Albuquerque,” Keller said of the project. The link between the future shelter and possible crime has been a talking point amongst community members since the city began public forums on the projects in 2019.

“If the city is going to put these services next to us, they have to have security 24 hours a day in our neighborhood,” an Albuquerque neighbor said during an October 2019 public forum on the project.

The city now has three potential locations on a short-list, including a property west of the University of New Mexico’s Cancer Center, Coronado Park near Third Street and I-40, and the Gibson Medical Center on Gibson near San Mateo.

After discussing the pros and cons of each site during his news conference, Keller said he wanted to, “separate some facts from fear,” issuing strong words for anyone who believes homelessness and crime cannot be separated.

While acknowledging some interactions “that can lead to violence with respect to homeless people,” Keller said, “We know that’s a very, very small slice of this population.”

“It does no one justice, both as human or as a city to try and demonize homeless folks of all being part of a criminal element, that is absolutely not true,” Keller said.

KRQE News 13 asked the Keller administration Friday for any data it may have about the link between homelessness and crime. The administration sent a statement essentially saying that the Albuquerque Police Department’s statistics show officers take enforcement action on the homeless only slightly more than everyone else.

“I actually believe this will reduce the burden (of homelessness) of any community (the shelter) is in,” Keller said. “We want the community and everyone else to be a part of the solution, not just talk about the challenges and that’s what these three sites gives us the opportunity to do.”

While the mayor’s words may indicate that he believes a shelter will reduce trouble, conceptual renderings for the UNM site also show the city is already considering security for the project.

According to the latest renderings provided by the city, designers have already drawn what they call a “secure site boundary” around the entire property, along with a built-up berm around the development.

Keller emphasized at the news conference the city hasn’t selected a site, even though there are indications the UNM location west of the Cancer Center is likely favored. The city expects a final pick in the Spring.

If the city picks the UNM site, the ultimate decision on the property’s future would be up to the UNM Board of Regents. That board hasn’t given any solid indication yet if it supports the project.