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Make homeless shelter a means to an end

Increasingly, Albuquerque understands that everyone has a stake in addressing homelessness. There are direct influences that contribute to the number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the city, which include an insufficient income, lack of affordable housing, and access to health care to address mental illness and substance-use disorders. Over the past few years, the community narrative has evolved to understand the need for a system of neighbors supporting one another. Now is the time for the community to further engage by contacting local government with feedback on the various proposals working their way through the city system, and emphasizing the urgent need to increase housing and services to people experiencing homelessness.

Mayor Tim Keller and his administration acknowledge that there is not adequate emergency shelter capacity and are attempting to improve this situation. This is the first year that the Westside Emergency Housing Center – formerly the Winter Shelter – is open year-round, providing many individuals with a space to sleep during the summer months. The $14 million that has been earmarked for the proposed “Homeless Facility” through the GO Bond Capital Improvement Budget will be posed to voters in the fall. Details for this facility are still developing, and community members are able to provide input through city workgroups that are meeting over the next couple months. It is essential for community members to become involved in this planning process.

In developing a plan to use the proposed $14 million to address homelessness in our community, we must take the time to ask: What is the most compelling way to use this seemingly large, yet ultimately limited, sum? What are the best practices to most effectively transition people from homelessness into housing? While emergency shelters are not the solution, they are crucial stopgap measures. The key philosophy in increasing shelter beds is that these facilities should be a stepping stone and never a final destination. Policies and procedures for the city’s proposed facility should ensure it adopts low-barrier access intake methods and provides trauma-informed services that incentivize use of the facility and promotes move-on strategies for folks to enter into stable housing. Best practices reveal that a variety of smaller shelters increases the performance of the sheltering system by increasing the capacity to serve the diverse needs of people in emergency housing by decreasing security concerns, the risk of compromised immune systems, and other issues associated with congregate living.

Beyond the development and staffing of the proposed shelter, Albuquerque should also consider how to continue to assist someone navigating the housing process. Awareness of how to transition people from a shelter into stable housing is essential to ending homelessness in Albuquerque. OrgCode Consulting Inc., a national homeless services consultant, states that it is “absolutely critical that when adding shelter beds, your community is also adding available, subsidized affordable housing.” We know that a serious institutional flaw in our system that contributes to continued homelessness is the lack of investment in subsidized affordable housing. In order to operate the most successful shelters, we must address the outflow of persons from emergency housing shelters into subsidized – or unsubsidized – affordable housing. Without a sufficient number of affordable housing units, our sheltering system will remain a destination instead of becoming a true emergency intervention.

A one-time allotment of $2 million has been approved by the city for housing vouchers, and while this initiative shows the commitment to addressing the need for housing, it is still critical to invest annually in more affordable housing units. This can be achieved by investing the maximum percentage possible – 8% – in the GO Bond Capital Improvement Budget to the Workforce Housing Trust Fund, which provides gap financing to fund the rehabilitation or new construction of affordable housing.

To advocate for an effective housing system that incorporates the thoughtful development of emergency shelters, as well as equal investment in affordable housing, a living wage and services, contact your city councilor, attend and comment at City Council meetings, and watch out for the other various means that will be advertised by the city.

Please contact Brie Sillery for more information, brie-s@nmceh.org.

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