“WE ARE A SYSTEM OF CARE”: Gateway Center the Future of Addressing Homelessness in ABQ

Last Thursday, the Chamber’s board got a behind-the-scenes look at the Gateway Center, the City’s first-of-its-kind overnight shelter with co-located services to support people experiencing homelessness – and help them ultimately find permanent housing.

The City’s Director of Family and Community Services Carol Pierce, along with Operations Director Doug Chaplin and Gateway Manager Dr. Azka Naru, presented on the facility’s unique model. They told the board that the facility is more than just a shelter, thanks to the five services that make it up: housing navigation services, an engagement center, a receiving area for first responders to take people in need, medical sobering, and medical respite. (For more about these new services and their goals, click here.)

The facility’s model of co-located wraparound services is a best practice in addressing homelessness; as another best practice, the center is also intentionally low-barrier: there is no requirement for guests to be clean, though on-campus drug use is prohibited. Each guest may even keep up to one pet – pets are often the only family a person sleeping rough has, Pierce told the group – and the facility will offer vaccinations and microchipping services too.

In the immediate term, the Gateway Center’s overnight shelter, which the team refers to as the sleeping area, offers dignity and privacy. Sleeping spaces are private with a bed and a small dresser, with shared bathrooms that will allow guests to feel clean and comfortable as they rest and recover – and eventually prepare for job interviews.

The facility’s leadership plans to bring the rest of these services online by 2025 as well. Pierce and her colleagues led the board on a tour of the facility’s newly finished lobby, open engagement center, and nearly-finished first responder receiving area. The engagement center, which offers critical services like ID recovery, Medicaid enrollment, and ultimately resume building and job training through Workforce Solutions, is already in use supporting the facility’s first guests. By the end of next year, the Gateway Center will offer medical respite care for people who need a longer stay to rest and heal. And, by mid-2024, the Gateway Center will open a medical sobering area, the first of its kind in the state of New Mexico. With 50 beds, the service aims to help keep people in need out of hospitals and jail, supporting more than 17,000 overnight stays each year.

Once the facility is fully up and running, the team hopes to serve 1,000 people per day across all services, with sleeping capacity for up to 200.

The Chamber has been a strong and vocal supporter of the Gateway Center, advocating for the 2019 approval of a bond to make the $14-million purchase of the facility. The success of similar models in other cities – like Haven for Hope in San Antonio, Texas, which the Chamber visited with a delegation of City officials in 2018 – bodes well for Albuquerque’s efforts to address its unhoused population. We’ll continue to support the Gateway Center as it grows in its capacity to offer social services co-located with overnight sheltering, support unhoused people in obtaining transitional and ultimately permanent housing.

Find more information about the Gateway Center, including the facility’s goals, its many partner organizations, and even floor plans, at the City’s website here.

Carol Pierce, the City’s Director of Family and Community Services, shows the group the area first responders will soon be able to take people in need, offering a more appropriate alternative to jails or hospitals. Once they arrive, Pierce said, they can be connected to the public services they need to get off the street – whether that’s to get clean, get back home to another city or state, or find support through housing navigation services to get into permanent housing.

Pierce outlines the big-picture goals behind the new facility, like its emphasis on closing gaps that often leave Native American and other unhoused people of color behind.

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