Thousands of people go without permanent housing in Albuquerque each year. Voters this fall approved $14 million taxpayer dollars for a new emergency shelter, and the City Council has approved an architect for the project. But the city’s plan is still unclear, and many people say they’d rather have several smaller sites than one big centralized shelter.
On a recent Saturday morning, Johnathon Stubbs sat on a metal bench outside the Albuquerque Convention Center, where there was a public meeting about the new proposed shelter. He’s 23, dressed in layers of denim, and accompanied by his two service dogs, Sweetie and Sophia.
"They’re 11 and 12 years old, and really should be reaching retirement," Stubbs said. "I can say that if I didn’t have my dogs with me, at all times, everywhere, I can’t even guarantee that I’d be sitting here talking to this person right now."
The dogs deter theft and attack, Stubbs said, and they keep him responsible—taking care of himself so he can care for them. He'd been staying at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center, but he knows what it’s like to sleep out in the cold.
"It's not fun. It’s quite deadly. It’s kinda cute and whatever in the summertime, everybody’s kind of in a decent mood," he said. "But in the wintertime it’s not cute. It’s not funny. There’s people out here freezing."
Homeless services are provided by a scattering of nonprofits here, plus year-round shelter in the old jail on the Westside. The city wants to replace that with a new shelter that’s easier for emergency responders and service providers to access.
Khadijah Bottom founded Vizionz Sankofa, a nonprofit for refugees and immigrants in the International District, where she does outreach. “You need to go to them," she said, "and not send people that’s afraid of them, don’t want to touch them, don’t want to be in the room with them. I know that's how they’re treated at some places."
Bottom worries about putting families with kids in the same place as people with behavioral health needs or substance use disorders. Plus, she said, some people can’t or won’t show up at a huge government facility.
The decision of one versus multiple sites has yet to be made, said Lisa Huval, who’s Director of Housing and Homelessness with the city. "You know, three 10-bed shelters is not going to help us make an impact. Three 100-bed shelters certainly could."
Huval said they’ve got to find places that are affordable, and where residents are open to the project. Still, it’s hard for neighbors to weigh in when the city’s not certain what it’s trying to build.
A centrally located shelter would be close to buses and services. But people who live near Downtown—like in Santa Barbara-Martineztown—say they already feel the effects of being next to most of the available services.
Connie Vigil, who owns a home and business in Wells Park, where there’s a lot of foot traffic to and from nonprofits that provide health care, meals and more. "“It’s been completely ignored that certain nonprofits are basically a nuisance," she said.
Vigil said people leave trash and feces around the neighborhood, forcing businesses to close or move, and that property values have dropped. "The impact of needles in parks is affecting families being able to go out to parks and just enjoy open space," she said.
Ramie Chavez has experienced homelessness off and on for the last couple years. She said it’s frustrating to hear people described as a nuisance because of basic needs they can’t control. "When you get up in the morning or in the middle of the night and you have to use the restroom, and there’s nowhere within a walking distance for you to use an actual toilet, it really takes away another part of that dignity that you need to build self-esteem."
Chavez said she’d love to see the city put in 40-foot container vans around town, each with toilets and showers that people could use whenever, instead of spending time being turned away by business after business.
Stubbs said if he had a bunch of money, he’d fix up small motels and apartment buildings around town where folks could live more stably. "We don’t want more shelters," he said. "Shelters are a very temporary fix to a very prolonged problem. $14 million could go to help a lot of people right away, and you’d never see them out here again."
The city plans to ask lawmakers for another $14 million this legislative session. Officials say they’ll seek more public input before decisions are made, with the new beds becoming available in spring 2022.
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