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Study will assess NM homelessness

A homeless woman rests near Iron and Third NW in Downtown Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Are there more homeless people in New Mexico now than before the pandemic? How many of them are men, women and families? When was the last time they worked?

These are just some of the questions that will be answered this week during the annual Point-in-Time count, in which people fan out across communities throughout the state with surveys, asking both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people where they slept on the night of Monday, Jan. 25.

Communities across the United States will also be surveyed, though perhaps on different dates.

The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness is coordinating the state effort, said Hana Gossett, director of the organization’s Continuum of Care program.

The data collected is compiled into a report that is submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses it “to see which communities are experiencing an increase or decrease in homelessness, where more resources need to go, and to help paint a picture of inequities and places where we need to focus on different populations,” Gossett said.

The 2019 count showed New Mexico with the highest percentage increase in homelessness in the nation.

The data is also used locally, said Lisa Huval, deputy director for Housing and Homelessness for the Albuquerque Department of Family and Community Services.

“We can use the data to help us advocate for more funding for homelessness, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that if we show an increase HUD will give us more money,” said Gossett.

Neither has the city historically used the Point-in-Time count to determine how much it puts into homeless programs, Huval said. She noted that the city in fiscal year 2021 spent $23 million on such programs, “which include, but are not limited to supportive housing programs, emergency shelters and street outreach programs.”

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A homeless man sets up camp on a sidewalk near Third and Iron SW on Friday. The Point-in-Time survey will count homeless people in Albuquerque this week. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Money for those programs comes from the city’s General Fund and HUD, Huval said.

In addition to its Westside Emergency Housing Center, the city and other partners have been using hotels to provide emergency housing during the pandemic. Eighty-seven families with 186 children were being sheltered across that network as of this week.

Normally, the Point-in-Time count relies on an army of volunteers, but this year most of them will not be pressed into service because “the majority of those folks are older and fall into the higher-risk categories for complications related to COVID,” Gossett said.

“Instead, we are coordinating with our street outreach and other organizational partners who are still providing in-person services, to do as much outreach as possible on the streets, at needle sites and at day shelters to still conduct the surveys,” she said.

In even-numbered years, the Point-in-Time count only surveys homeless people who stay in shelters on the designated survey night; in odd-numbered years both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people are counted.

Huval and Gossett said they know from the outset that there would be an undercount, particularly of unsheltered homeless people, who are often difficult to locate and who frequently decline to participate in the survey.

“We plan to do another unsheltered count in 2022 because we’re more concerned there may be a more severe undercount this year due to not being able to pull on more volunteers and everyone social distancing,” Gossett said.

The last sheltered/unsheltered count in 2019 put the number of homeless people in Albuquerque at just over 1,500. Operators of homeless shelters and meal programs said the actual number was probably in the range of 4,000 to 4,500. Overall, the state experienced a 57.6% increase in chronic homelessness, which was the highest percentage increase in the nation at the time.

That survey also showed that about 40% of the unsheltered people in New Mexico were Native American.

Nationwide, according to HUD, African Americans accounted for 40% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019, despite being just 13% of the U.S. population.

Albuquerque Public Schools estimates that at any given time over the course of a school year there are about 3,000 students who don’t have a permanent address, including students who live in motels or stay with family or friends.

Gossett said the coalition is working with APS to include in the Point-in-Time count those students confirmed as homeless on the Jan. 25 count date.

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