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Heading Home program celebrates 700th person helped

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Like every parent, Kim Trujillo had big dreams for her son.

She saw the smart and kind Miguel someday attending Harvard University.

Those dreams faded when Miguel began displaying signs of mental illness as a child.

At 14, he ran away from home and was missing for nine months as he traveled through New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.

“As you can imagine, my family and I went through hell just wondering if he was dead or alive,” Trujillo said.

He eventually returned home, but spent the rest of his youth in juvenile detention centers, crashing on friends’ couches and, ultimately, on the streets.

He often visited the emergency room for cutting injuries he gave himself.

This spring, the Albuquerque Heading Home program provided Miguel, now 22, a clean, safe place to live and his family a sense of renewed hope.

He also has consistent access to medications and other social services the city has to offer.

Seven hundred keys, representing the 700 homeless people who have been provided housing through the Albuquerque Heading Home program, hang on a display during a celebratory event on Tuesday afternoon. (Maddy Hayden/Albuquerque Journal)

Miguel is the 700th person aided by the program, and Trujillo told his story during a celebratory event at a Supportive Housing Coalition apartment complex in Downtown Albuquerque on Tuesday afternoon, which houses some of those in the program.

Started in 2011, Albuquerque Heading Home has been touted as largely effective by city officials in tackling the city’s homeless problem and saving taxpayer dollars through fewer ER visits and jail stays.

Mayor Richard Berry said the program provides a key solution for homelessness: providing homes.

By getting people past the “struggle for survival,” they’re able to focus on getting other aspects of their lives back on track, he said.

Dennis Plummer, CEO of parent organization Heading Home, said additional funding would allow them to help even more Albuquerqueans off the streets.

“This one has been proven to work, it’s been studied, we have the data, so it’s time to double down as a city,” Plummer said.

Trujillo said she knows this isn’t the end of her family’s struggles, but is already seeing positive changes in Miguel, who lives in his own apartment.

He’s expressed an interest in finding a job and volunteering with animals.

“Knowing that Miguel has a roof over his head, regular medication and access to many services has made our lives much more livable,” she said. “He may not be at Harvard, but he is at home.”