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Albuquerque mayor outlines timeline and capacity for Gateway Center

Ralph Martinez is arrested by agents with the 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office.
Courtesy of 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office
Ralph Martinez is arrested by agents with the 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office.

After shutting down a large encampment at Coronado Park last week, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and other city officials are highlighting the status of the Gateway Center, which will provide an array of services, including emergency shelter and medical care, to the city’s unhoused population. Construction is underway and the first phase of the center should open next summer.

At a news conference Wednesday, Keller touted the low barriers to accessing the center’s 24/7 intake process. He said almost all other shelters in the state have “some sort of barrier.”

“You’ve got to be sober, you’ve got to be cleaned up, you’ve got to be a man or a woman — because a lot of them are gender-based — or you have to have a certain identification,” he said. “So, this is truly changing that system in central New Mexico. And it’s needed to be changed for decades.”

Critics of the Gateway Center have called for several smaller shelters to be scattered across the city rather than one large location. The mayor refuted that that’s what this is, describing the space at the old Lovelace hospital as the “Gibson Health Hub” that is connected to “spokes,” including a future location Downtown, a youth shelter recently funded by the city council, and integration with the existing Westside shelter. There will also be referrals to private providers in town, including transporting people to their shelters.

“But they also need a sort of centralized hub where we can provide some of the things they can’t do, especially medically,” the mayor said of these other shelters in town. “And that’s what this facility is all about.”

The medical services will include detox, recuperation from illness or injury, trauma recovery, and three hospitals that are already leasing space onsite — one for substance abuse, one for behavioral health, and an acute care facility.

Keller says 400 beds are already available at these center facilities. As the shelter and other services are built out in phases, 100 more should be ready by next summer and another 260 the following year.

He added that many who come through the doors won’t be sleeping over, or at least not long term, which will boost how many people the center is able to serve.

“Eighteen months from now,” he said, “we actually think we’re going to be approaching that historical number of helping 1,000 people a day at this facility.”

In response to neighbor concerns over the facility, Keller said it’s been designed with entry in the back of the building and a requirement that clients are dropped off by either first responders or public transportation to reduce pedestrian traffic.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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