Public News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Homelessness has been on the rise in New Mexico over the past two years, and efforts to turn that around will receive attention on several fronts in 2019.
The state has the highest number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in the U.S., according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s based on the annual Point In Time survey conducted at shelters and on the street during a single night in January.
Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said rates dropped significantly after peaking during the Great Recession in 2011, but are now climbing again. He said he’d like to see more state revenue allocated to address the problem.
“The main thing we’re looking for this legislative session is for the state to invest more money in housing solutions,” Hughes said, “for rapid re-housing for homeless people as well as permanent, supportive housing for homeless people who are disabled.”
The high cost of housing has become a big contributor to homelessness nationwide. To address that, commissioners in Bernalillo County – the state’s most populous county – have approved short-term housing vouchers for people in recovery or who are living with mental illness.
Last fall, Albuquerque unveiled a citywide plan to address homelessness. The city’s 2019 Point in Time survey is scheduled for January 28.
Last year’s survey showed that 15 percent of homeless adults in New Mexico were veterans – the second-highest percentage in the country, behind Montana. Hughes said among those veterans, about 42 percent had been continuously homeless for a year or more.
“The big problem are the people who can’t get out of it by themselves, and whose lives are basically ruined if they stay too long homeless,” he said. “And we have found that there are more veterans and chronically homeless people than we at first realized, which makes those efforts a little harder.”
A bill to expand New Mexico’s Hate Crimes Act to include those who are economically disadvantaged has been filed for consideration in the upcoming state legislative session.