Report reveals safety concerns at Westside Emergency Housing Center
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Disability Rights New Mexico started an investigation after a person died at the Westside Emergency Housing Center last February.
“This is the first time we investigated a shelter,” said Holly Mell, staff attorney with Disability Rights New Mexico.
Mell is the attorney who got the original report about the death. The person reportedly died after an alleged fall from an upper bunk. They reportedly had several disabilities like mental illness, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse issues.
The investigation proved they didn’t fall from the bunk – and died from internal injuries.
“We did note a number of neglectful conditions at the facility that constitute a risk of injury or death to other individuals living there, and not just individuals with disabilities,” Mell said.
The investigation found the bunks do pose fall risks. It also found issues with staffing levels, medical care for people with chronic health problems, and accessibility issues.
Mell also had questions about capacity.
“We know that there have been a lot of deaths and serious emergencies at this place,” Mell said. “And that I think that if things don’t change at the shelter, that there will continue to be.”
Gilbert Ramirez, the new director of the city’s Health, Housing and Homelessness Department, addressed the findings.
“It’s disheartening to hear, you know, unfortunately, what we have seen post-COVID is probably the largest utilization of that facility that we’ve ever seen,” Ramirez said. “What this report did do is highlight a very large kind of gap in the system.”
Ramirez underlines the shelter is not a medical facility. It can only provide basic medical needs – not recovery from serious medical conditions or injuries.
“They go to the street, mostly likely get reinfected, and then it’s back into an emergency system that’s very costly,” Ramirez said. “That’s a huge gap in our system that we need to address.”
But Ramirez says they won’t be able to start filling it until the Medical Respite Unit opens in the Gateway Center next winter. He says they’re asking the Legislature for $6 million in the state budget to renovate dorms, install cameras, and improve access to showers and other parts of the facility.
“Despite the distance and some of the things identified in the report that we know need to be addressed, it’s home for over 500 people, and that home cannot go away tomorrow,” Ramirez said.
The city gave KOB 4 updated staffing numbers Friday. There are 53 employees right now – the goal is 70.
There’s at least one dorm monitor in all ten dorms at all times, which was not the case at the time of the resident’s death last year.
Ramirez also clarified the maximum capacity of the shelter is 660.