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NM’s rise in homelessness highest in the nation

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Anthony Lucero, 56, who has been living on the streets for a decade, pulls two shopping carts containing his belongings from the parking lot at The Rock At Noon Day, after having lunch there. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

When Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller goes before the state Legislature seeking a $14 million state match to build a homeless shelter, he will be armed with additional ammunition from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report showing New Mexico had the nation’s largest percentage increase in homelessness from 2018 to 2019.

That increase of 27% is detailed in the 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, released Thursday.

In addition, the report shows that the state had a 57.6% increase in chronic homelessness last year, also the highest in the nation.

Lisa Huval, deputy director for Housing and Homelessness for the Albuquerque Family and Community Services Department, said the New Mexico numbers used by HUD were taken from the annual Point-in-Time Count conducted in Albuquerque and around the state last January, in both urban and rural areas, and counting both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people.

The percentage increase in Albuquerque’s homeless population alone rose by 15%, she said.

HUD defines homelessness as an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, or has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation, or is living in a publicly or privately operated shelter, Huval said.

“Chronic homelessness is defined by HUD as a person who has been homeless for one year, or has had four episodes of homelessness over three years with the combined episodes adding up to one year, and has a disabling condition that makes it difficult to obtain housing,” Huval said.

In New Mexico, according to the report, there were 2,464 homeless people in 2019. Of that total, 1,283 persons, or about 52%, were chronically homeless.

The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, which is contracted by the city to conduct the annual count, puts the number of homeless people in Albuquerque at 1,524 sheltered and unsheltered individuals – 206 more than were counted in 2017, when 1,318 homeless people were counted in the city limits.

In even-numbered years, only homeless people who stay in shelters are counted; in odd-numbered years, both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people are counted.

Only those homeless people who can be located are counted, either sheltered or unsheltered, as well as only those who agree to participate in the survey.

Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Johanna King said about 3,000 children enrolled in APS are considered homeless at any given time over the course of a school year. But that number includes people who live in motels or who are doubled up with family or friends.

Danny Whatley, executive director of the Rock At Noon Day, a day shelter and meal site, said that based on his observations, the number of homeless people in Albuquerque is likely between 4,000 and 4,500.

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Jesus Hernandez, 44, folds a blanket so it will fit into a shopping cart with the rest of his belongings in the parking lot at The Rock At Noon Day. He has been homeless for seven years.(Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

“One of the driving factors in the increase in chronically homeless people in New Mexico is what happened to our behavioral health system under the previous governor, with the dismantling of the behavioral health infrastructure as we knew it amid accusations of Medicaid fraud,” Huval said. “This forced a number of providers to close their doors and caused lots of people to lose access to services. In many ways, we’re still recovering from that.”

In 2013, 15 behavioral health providers were shut down by the state Human Services Department after an audit alleged fraud. After a lengthy investigation, Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office eventually cleared all 15 providers of any wrongdoing.

Another part of the story, said Huval, “is our state’s struggle with funding and supporting behavioral health programs at the scale they’re needed, and with folks being able to get into housing and being able to stay in housing.”

In raw numbers, the HUD report reveals that an estimated 567,715 people nationwide, both sheltered and unsheltered, were identified as homeless on the single night of the 2019 count. That represents a 2.7% increase over 2018.

Homelessness overall declined in 29 states and the District of Columbia, but increased in 21 states.

Nationwide, 396,045 people experienced homelessness as individuals, meaning they did not have children with them.

Individuals made up 70% of the total homeless population. And half of those who experienced homelessness as individuals were staying in sheltered locations.

According to the report, the number of unsheltered homeless people nationally rose by 8.7%, which includes increases of 15% among unsheltered women and 43% among people who identify as transgender.

California has 53% of all unsheltered homeless people in the country, with 108,432 people living on the streets.

That figure is nearly nine times higher than the number of unsheltered homeless people in Florida, the state with the next highest count at 12,476. California’s population is twice that of Florida’s.

In an introduction to the report, HUD Secretary Ben Carson noted that there remains “deep and persistent racial inequities among the people who experience homelessness.”

African Americans, he said, “accounted for 40% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019, despite being 13% of the U.S. population.”

Veterans represented a bright spot in the report.

Compared to 2009 numbers there were 40% fewer homeless veterans nationwide during 2019.

The number of homeless veterans in 2019 shows a 2% decline from 2018. In raw numbers that means 36,282 fewer homeless veterans than there were in 2009.

That decline, according to the report, was a result of partnerships between HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs in funding supportive housing programs.

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Homeless people gather daily at Coronado Park in the shadow of Interstate 40 near Second Street. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

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Homeless for three years after suffering a brain injury, Charles Kauffman, 51, naps on the floor of The Rock At Noon Day, while Jeroldo Rivera plays the piano. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

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