The Spruce Park Neighborhood Association met at the Central United Methodist Church to protest on March 4 the potential installation of a homeless shelter on University of New Mexico property.
The meeting showcased an hour of public comment, culminating in the Neighborhood Association Board approving a statement condemning the use of University land for the Gateway Center.
The residents’ primary apprehensions ranged from overarching safety concerns to questions of why the University would utilize its plot of land for a homeless shelter, rather than expanding the UNM Cancer Center.
The meeting comes as Albuquerque grapples with a 27% spike in homelessness between 2018 - 2019 according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In response, the City of Albuquerque received $14 million from the state to build a shelter with on-site permanent housing resources for up to 300 people according to Lisa Huval, deputy director for Housing and Homelessness.
Allen Parkman, a UNM Regents professor emeritus of management and vice president of the Spruce Park Neighborhood Association opening comments, kicked things off with public comment. Parkman reiterated the UNM Safety Council’s recent 11 to 1 vote against having the shelter on University property and detailed the proximity of the shelter to his neighborhood.
Parkman mentioned a park located in the heart of the neighborhood that could become the epicenter of homeless activity due to potential overflow from the shelter.
“This park has child play structures. It’s where buses drop off and pick up children,” he said. “It is not a place that would accommodate homeless people very well.”
After concluding his introduction, Parkman opened the floor for public comment.
Paul Mysliwiec, a Spruce Park resident, affirmed that residents in attendance “do not dislike homeless people,” before confronting safety risks that he argued could be mitigated by the City of Albuquerque early on.
“Any person experiencing persistent homelessness has a larger chance than the general population of having severe mental illness and drug addiction problems,” he said. “My concern continues to be that here in Spruce Park we have especially vulnerable populations such as the elderly and young schoolchildren.”
Mysliwiec added the risk against these groups could be alleviated if the City of Albuquerque chose to perform a safety analysis before selecting the final location for the center.
“They have $14 million. Some of that money should go to safety assessments on each of the finalist locations to assist in the making of the decision,” he said.
However, at a Gateway Center forum at UNM on Feb. 11, Huval said a safety assessment would be conducted regardless of the center’s final location. Both Huval and Mayor Tim Keller said the City of Albuquerque would incur all security-related costs for the shelter as well.
“We are fully committed to hiring a professional security analyst to do security analysis no matter where the Gateway Center is located to help us understand what are proactive things that we can do up front both in design and operations in order to minimize security impacts,” Huval said. “We fully plan to build in the cost of any security that’s needed into the operating budget.”
Another neighborhood resident qualified the shelter as a “Band-Aid solution” for homelessness.
“If you look at the number of people who would be served by this facility, it’s about one-tenth of the actual number of people in Albuquerque who need these services,” he said. “People who don’t have homes deserve some kind of solution, and this is currently not solving a much bigger issue that stems from structural problems and the way that our society is wired towards wealth disparity.”
The meeting also addressed discourse regarding the lack of transparency between the City of Albuquerque and residents of various potentially affected neighborhoods.
In an interview with the Daily Lobo, an anonymous source expressed indignation at the exclusion of her neighborhood’s input during Albuquerque’s deliberations on the location of the Gateway Center.
“This whole process was kept a secret as far as we’re concerned. We didn’t get any notification, and that is very upsetting. We really want our voice to be known,” she said.
She said she personally feels betrayed by Keller, whom she had voted for and claims she no longer stands by.
“I want Tim Keller to know that we don’t appreciate him saying in his press report on the 28th that he wants to debunk the myth that the shelter will be close to UNM’s campus,” she said. “This shelter is half a mile from the edge of campus. It’s one-fourth of a mile from the edge of Spruce Park neighborhood. He is trying to convince the public that there is no opposition and that the shelter is far away from UNM.”
Out of all the residents who chose to voice their opinions, only one spoke in favor of the shelter, citing its proximity to essential resources as a primary reason for his support.
“It’s close to three hospitals. For homeless people who typically are women and families or veterans, it’s a good resource for them,” he said. “The location is close to accessible means for public transportation and offers the flexibility of walking to facilities they may need. In my opinion, this logistically makes a lot of sense.”
The Spruce Park Neighborhood Association board voted on the final version of their statement later in the evening, which they discussed sending to the UNM Board of Regents, UNM President Garnett Stokes and Keller, among others.
Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli