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City Outlines Expanded Services for Residents Experiencing Homelessness

In response to the public health crisis, the City has ramped up its measures to help the most vulnerable

Dec. 17, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE – Today, Mayor Tim Keller and City leaders outlined measures taken during the pandemic to widen the safety net for individuals experiencing homelessness, and reminded the public that access to housing and other services remains readily available.

Since the start of the pandemic, the City has drastically increased its efforts to address homelessness. Almost immediately, the Westside Emergency Housing Shelter (WEHC) began offering 24/7 shelter and three hot meals every day.

Last month alone, a record-breaking 630 individuals experiencing homelessness were housed by the City. In addition to expanding capacity at WEHC, the Department of Family and Community Services (FCS) worked in partnership with the University of New Mexico, Bernalillo County, the State and non-profits, to establish ‘Wellness Hotels’ that further support Albuquerque’s most vulnerable population.

“It is a luxury to stay home during a pandemic, or even to have a safe home to stay in,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “Our shelter stayed open when others closed, and we found innovative ways to get a roof over the heads of even more individuals. We are committed to offering somewhere better to stay than on the streets, whether it is at our Westside Emergency Shelter or in one of our five ground-breaking Wellness Hotels, and want to make it clear that we have plenty of space to take care of people.”

Although there was an outbreak of COVID-19 infections at the WEHC this fall, there are currently only 14 COVID positive individuals at the WEHC. The earlier outbreak was well contained compared to the widespread outbreaks seen nationwide and predicted by the CDC. By bringing on a Medical Director, Doctor Parajon, and enforcing strict social distancing and mask wearing policies early on, the City was able to minimize the impact of the shelter’s outbreak.

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to serve here alongside the City of Albuquerque,” said Dr. Parajon. “People experiencing homelessness are a part of our community and we want to provide the best care possible for them. This is certainly testing every part of our health care and community care system — but it also shows the power of partnership and what we can do together."

The Homeless Coordinating Council, comprised of stakeholders from the metro area, just released its Coordinated Community-Wide Framework on Homelessness, which highlights strategies on how to best tackle homelessness in Albuquerque. The new framework further illustrates how the proposed Gateway Center would address this issue in the community. Just last week, the City announced its offer to purchase the old Lovelace Gibson Medical Center to serve as a key piece of the Gateway Center Network of Services, connecting those experiencing homelessness with housing, mental health, substance abuse, and case management services.

“While we work on new solutions like the Gateway Center and the new Support Annex, we had to find a way to provide support to our most vulnerable population in the meantime,” said Carol Pierce, Director of Family and Community Services. “Whether we’re adding new shuttle stops to make our services accessible, or providing three hot meals a day, we are going to do whatever it takes to keep folks safe, warm and healthy.”

Lisa Huval, Deputy Director of Family and Community Services, also outlined the City’s increased efforts to get families into supportive housing. In the past three years, Keller’s administration has increased the budget for supportive housing vouchers by more than $3 million dollars, offering a safe place to stay for 742 formerly homeless households just last year, and expects to help more than 150 more households in 2021. In FY19, we funded a new single site permanent supportive housing project in partnership with the County. Construction will start (date) and will be serving previously homeless households by (date).

Family and Community Services is also highlighting a series of videos that dispel myths and answer common questions about homelessness, including whether the City will close the shelter, how the Homeless Coordinating Council works, what services will be located at the City of Albuquerque Support Annex, and more. View each video at the link below:

CABQ Support Annex Grand Opening Video

https://youtu.be/Z8xkm04_2V0

 

What is the Homeless Coordinating Council?

https://vimeo.com/488382486

 

Does the City plan to close the Westside Shelter?

https://vimeo.com/488378619

 

Will the Proposed Gateway Center be one large 300-bed facility or multiple sites?

https://vimeo.com/483371097/ea0b74e73d

 

In addition to outlining the services it provides, the City reminded the public that under no circumstances does it destroy and displace homeless encampments. Under FCS, the Public Outreach Program (P.O.P), works directly with the homeless community to mitigate risk – like avoiding setting up an encampment under a busy freeway underpass, and connect them to services to get them off the streets. P.O.P will soon be housed in the CABQ Support Annex building, a new acquisition that allows for the team to be close to Coronado Park, downtown Albuquerque and the I-40 corridor.

"I love getting to know people and helping them get connected to supportive services that will aid them on their path towards getting permanently housed,” said Sebastian Adamczyk, Manager of the Public Outreach Program.