Building the Gateway Center on a University of New Mexico plot of land off I-25 and Lomas Boulevard is still under consideration despite the UNM Campus Safety Council's vote of disapproval.
The $14 million homeless shelter will house a projected 300 people and provide on-site resources for permanent housing. It will be open every hour of the day. Among the several possible locations for the shelter, city officials have considered University property, the Second Street and I-40 area, Montessa Park and the former Lovelace Hospital on Gibson.
UNM's Campus Safety Council cited strained police resources, hampered student safety and the possibility of a subsequent decline in enrollment as reasons for voting 11-1 against the shelter.
The Safety Council includes the dean of students, UNM's emergency manager, the chief of University police, Associated Students of the University of New Mexico representatives and Graduate and Professional Student Association representatives, among others.
Dean of Students Nasha Torrez said that a safety issue on campus could impact not only the student involved but the student's hometown community as well, thus contributing to an already troubling enrollment decline. Torrez also highlighted the proximity of the shelter to UNM's Greek row as a primary factor that concerned the council.
"The proposed site is half a mile away from Greek row, and students who live there have already reported issues with folks who are homeless or transient," Torrez said. "The proposed site is also a mile away from the dorms, and there have already been some instances where students have had negative interactions with transient people around that area."
Torrez said she would be more comfortable with the Gateway Center if UNM were able to provide an increase in security measures. However, Torrez said such initiatives would be complex and costly to implement.
"UNM has excellent, committed police officers, but there aren't a whole lot of them and recruiting police officers is not easy," Torrez said. "Plus, students from marginalized communities have expressed that more police isn't the best answer and that we should implement other non-police security measures. But unfortunately, those initiatives would require a lot of infrastructure and a lot of money."
The safety council discussed security resources such as lockdown mechanisms for classrooms and key card access for all buildings on campus. Despite the effectiveness of these options, Torrez reiterated that the financial resources they would require to install and maintain are barely feasible for UNM.
"Lockdown mechanisms for classrooms would need to be ADA accessible, and we would have to ensure that key card access can't glitch to the point where students are locked out of a library accidentally," she said.
Torrez stated that she cast her vote against the shelter after attending multiple forums as well as garnering student feedback.
"I sat down with the Panhellenic women and house presidents and headquarter representatives about some of the concerns they had about living on Greek row. I met with the Greek men as well, so we have a pretty good sense of the concerns that are out there," she said.
In the wake of the council's recommendation, President Garnett Stokes sent an email to students on Feb. 14 containing information about the shelter debate as well as a brief survey. The survey asked questions ranging from which areas of campus students spent the most time to a page allowing students to rank the importance of any factors — such as traffic congestion, University image and the safety of homeless families — that UNM ought to consider in determining whether the shelter should be positioned on University property. The survey will be open until Feb. 28.
"The Campus Safety Council was created to advise me on issues that affect the well-being and safety of our students," Stokes said in a separate statement regarding the council's determination. "Their recommendation will be seriously considered by University leadership, as well as other community inputs and relative information, as we deliberate whether UNM will support having the Gateway Center site at the proposed location."
On Feb. 11, ASUNM hosted a panel to gather students' opinions about the shelter. The panel included ASUNM President Adam Biederwolf, GPSA President Muhammad Afzaal, two UNM administrators and the City of Albuquerque's Housing and Homelessness Deputy Director Lisa Huval. Despite discourse on the negative conventional image of people experiencing homelessness as more dangerous, students attending the forum primarily expressed concern for campus safety if a shelter were to be built on University property.
Even students who did not attend the panel gave their two cents on the issue.
Levi Doyle, a senior majoring in biochemistry, expressed that implementing a shelter in close proximity to students ought to be analyzed under a more objective and data-driven lens.
"I think that trying to provide resources for homeless populations is a very difficult issue, because it comes with a lot of stigma that is difficult to sort through when you're trying to develop a very evidence-based approach to what you're doing," he said. "Until we have more concrete evidence or statistics to back up whatever course we decide to take, all the concerns we have at this point may be conjectural."
Torrez concluded that regardless of what President Stokes and the Board of Regents ultimately determine, she believes their decision will be weighed upon diverse perspectives and concerns, highlighting the importance of student feedback.
"I would encourage students to be informed and fill out the President's survey. I think this is a decision that, frankly, can impact the trajectory of the University for the next 20 years," Torrez said.
Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli