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Editorial: Another shuttle stop on way to tackling area homelessness

News this week the city of Albuquerque added a shuttle stop for homeless people between God’s Warehouse soup kitchen and food pantry in the International District and the now year-round 450-bed Westside Emergency Housing Center 20 miles west of Downtown is welcome indeed. It means many more folks who would otherwise have to tough it out for the night on Albuquerque streets can now sleep inside. On a bed. They can use a bathroom. And perhaps they can feel safe for a while.

It’s another stop on the way to full wraparound services to help homeless individuals integrate back into society.

Although data from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness says there were 2,551 homeless individuals in the state last year – including 201 families, 290 veterans, 182 unaccompanied young adults ages 18 to 24 and 891 people who were experiencing chronic homelessness – anyone who has simply driven around the metro area can spot a serious undercount when they see it. Local estimates are 5,000 to 8,000 homeless individuals in the metro area.

So the additional 6 p.m. shuttle pickup at God’s Warehouse gets more folks to a safe place to lay their heads (and then back into town in the a.m.). And what began as a lone pickup at Coronado Park at Third and Interstate 40 could expand further – the city’s Family and Community Services Department is considering additional pickup sites.

Rather than closing its winter shelter in March, the city has kept it open, Bernalillo County began funding on-site case managers and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center sends medical personnel out to help twice a week, according to Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director for housing and homeless.

Add that expansion of services to Bernalillo County’s $2 million tiny homes project on 1.38 acres of Albuquerque Indian Center land on Texas SE. Each of the planned 30 116-square-foot homes will be adjacent to AIC’s menu of homeless services that include around 200 meals Monday through Friday, mail collection for clients, employment assistance, and behavioral health and DWI and substance abuse counseling.

And the city’s Heading Home program that set aside over $1 million from the feds last fall for “short-term supportive housing,” i.e. rental-assistance vouchers for up to two years to help cover 50 to 80 families’ housing costs as they get their finances and lives on track.

And St. Martin’s HopeWorks planned 42-unit permanent housing site on its Downtown campus.

And the $14 million included on the November ballot for a centralized homeless shelter. If approved, the funding will build on a letter of intent earlier this year between Mayor Tim Keller and University of New Mexico officials to explore a 24/7 emergency shelter with supportive services and a gateway to health care and social services via nonprofits and charities represented there.

Albuquerque can continue to shake its collective head at the homelessness so glaringly apparent in our community, or it can ensure the above measures and more are coordinated and evaluated so taxpayers get the most bang for their bucks and those on the streets get real help.

A centralized shuttle pickup/dropoff site is one more important stop on that journey.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.