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People without housing visible throughout city

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Homelessness is visible in every sector of Albuquerque.

Encampments are cropping up in parking lots, city parks, the bosque and in vacant plots of land from the far West Side to east of Tramway. Panhandlers at busy intersections and along interstates are part of the landscape just about everywhere.

Coronado Park, just south of Interstate 40 between Second and Fourth streets, may be the most severe example of what happens when a neighborhood park is taken over by homeless people, but sizeable homeless populations regularly hang out at Downtown’s Robinson Park at Eighth Street and Central, and at Los Altos Park at Lomas and Eubank NE, among others.

People facing homelessness are also especially visible walking daily along Central Avenue, with large concentrations Downtown, in the university area and east of Louisiana.

Service providers generally agree that the number of homeless people in Albuquerque is increasing, or at best remaining flat.

Mary Garcia, executive director of the Albuquerque Indian Center, says the center provides services to more than 18,000 people a year, 92 percent of whom are Native American. Many of the homeless people seen east of Louisiana are Native Americans, who find their way to the area because of the services and free meals offered at the center, located at 105 Texas SE, and for medical, dental, and other social services from First Nations Community HealthSource at 5608 Zuni SE.

“We’ve been seeing more homeless over the last year and a half, and specifically in the last eight months more African Americans and Anglos. We’re not sure if they’re new to Albuquerque or came here from other parts of the city,” Garcia says.

Jeremy Reynalds, the late founder of Joy Junction, the state’s largest homeless shelter, said earlier this year that it is difficult to get a handle on how many people are homeless, in part because of differing definitions.

He raised the question of whether people are homeless if they sleep on a friend’s couch, live out of their car, rent a motel room for part of each month or are in a long-term rehab program at a shelter?

According to the 2017 biennial Point-In-Time Count, coordinated by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, 1,318 sheltered and unsheltered people are dealing with homelessness in Albuquerque. That number is up from 1,287 in 2015 and 1,170 in 2013.

“We recognize that the Point-In-Time count is an undercount,” says Lisa Maury, director of the coalition’s Albuquerque Continuum of Care section. “We make strong efforts to identify everyone experiencing homelessness in the city, but some people don’t want to participate in the count, which is completely voluntary; and frankly, it’s really difficult to find everyone who is homeless and ask them where they were on one particular night during the week of the count.”

While the Point-in-Time count may be the “official” number used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it falls far short of painting an accurate picture.

At any given time, between 3,500 and 4,000 students classified as homeless are attending Albuquerque Public Schools, says APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta.

Danny Whatley, executive director of The Rock at NoonDay, estimates the homeless population at about 4,500 and growing.

“It may have been stagnant for a few years prior to 2007, and then when the 2008 recession hit we started seeing a different kind of homeless problem with people who lost their jobs, their homes and filed for bankruptcies. They were just temporary homeless and were able to turn it around. But the number of chronically homeless stayed the same until recently. Within the last four or five years, that group has increased at least 5 percent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re talking about flesh and bodies it makes a huge impact on the community.”

At Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, the number of clients remains relatively flat, “because of the cyclical nature of homelessness,” says Anita Cordova, the organization’s director of development, planning and evaluation.

During an average year, AHCH sees about 7,000 clients in all its programs, “but in primary care programs we’re seeing about 4,700 a year, which has been pretty stable for about a decade,” Cordova says.

“We see shifts in subpopulations. For example, we’re now seeing more people 65 and older. It’s a small shift, maybe 1 or 2 percent, but it’s very concerning to us, because they’re extremely vulnerable and the services they require are specific to that population. We’ve also been seeing more Native Americans over the last three years. That population used to hold steady at about 10 percent, but we’ve seen it grow to 12 percent.”

Perception is reality for many people. Doreen McKnight, president of the Wells Park Neighborhood Association, and Marit Tully, president of the Near North Valley Neighborhood Association, acknowledge they don’t have hard numbers for the homeless people who pass through their neighborhoods daily.

“Anecdotally, it seems like there’s way more homeless people on the streets than in the past,” McKnight says.

And Tully agrees.

“I can’t put a percentage on it, but it’s absolutely noticeable because two primary service providers have moved into our neighborhood,” she says. “I don’t think anybody who lives here would say it isn’t visible. I think everybody can tell there’s a change.”

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