ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Officials in New Mexico’s largest city are investing more money in a homeless shelter west of Albuquerque as they continue researching options for establishing a new, more accessible shelter to address the growing needs of a vulnerable population amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The $1 million investment announced this week will pay for upgrades at the Westside Emergency Housing Center, including better ventilation due to COVID-19 concerns. The city is using funds from a federal grant program to pay for the work.

The center served an average of about 4,760 people monthly in 2020. Officials said that number will likely increase as the pandemic continues.

Voters in 2019 approved a bond that included $14 million for a new shelter. Since then, the city has narrowed down the list of possible locations for a new shelter.

They acknowledge that many who could use the westside shelter's services shelter don't because it’s too far away and transportation for busing people back and forth cost taxpayers about $1 million a year.

Bobby Sisneros, a planning manager with the city's Family and Community Services Department, said Monday that the city is still negotiating to acquire a former medical complex on the city's south side. The idea is that it would serve as the main component of Albuquerque's overall shelter system, with the westside center still playing a role.

“We are also creating strategic partnerships to build smaller shelters for different populations,” Sisneros said.

The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness this week is coordinating an effort in New Mexico to quantify homelessness. As part of the annual survey, volunteers are asking homeless people where they slept the night of Jan. 25.

The data is used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to track homelessness and determine where resources are needed. Local officials can use the information to advocate for more funding.

The 2019 count showed New Mexico with the highest percentage increase in homelessness in the nation, at 27%.

The count put the number of homeless people in Albuquerque at just over 1,500. But homeless shelter and meal program operators said the actual number was probably in the range of 4,000 to 4,500, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

That survey also showed that about 40% of the unsheltered people in New Mexico were Native American.

In addition to its westside shelter, Albuquerque and other partners have been using hotels to provide emergency housing during the pandemic.

Eighty-seven families with 186 children were being sheltered across that network as of this week.