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Closing in on six months after the Tiny Homes Village opened its doors to its first homeless residents, the village as of Monday had a mere eight occupants.
Two other residents were previously removed from the village for being disruptive, said village Resource Manager Ilse Biel.
The nearly $5 million project was designed with 30 stand-alone, 120-square-foot homes and communal buildings for toilets, showers, cooking, laundry and meeting spaces. The occupancy of the village is capped at 40 people and it was expected to be fully occupied by July, according to county officials and information posted on the county website.
The recently released Point-in-Time count shows that in January, when the survey was taken, there were no less than 1,567 homeless people in Albuquerque. Based on that number of homeless individuals, filling the 30 tiny homes might seem like a fairly easy task.
It is not, said Biel. The screening process for applicants has proven to be not only time consuming, but a bit too restrictive for many members of this difficult population.
“We had always said that we were in this for the long run, and not just doing housing triage,” Biel said. “Housing is just one of the components of the program. We are also creating a community and working towards long-term self sustainability.”
Applicants with addictions are required to be clean and sober for at least 10 days and remain in recovery, not have any extreme behavioral or mental health issues, and not be a registered sex offender or have been found guilty of a sex crime.
Those accepted into the program are expected to participate in governing the village, help screen new applicants, do communal chores, security and maintenance, and work on personal growth with case managers and others providing social services and resources.
Thus far, more than 150 applicants have been screened, said Biel. Many were rejected “because they were just looking for housing and not interested in participating in the program.” Some were disallowed because drugs, other than medical cannabis, were found in their urine screenings. Others were declined after an evaluation by a medical professional determined that behavioral or mental health issues would require “intensive care that was beyond what could be provided” in the setting of the Tiny Home Village, Biel said.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, one of the key figures who spearheaded the Tiny Home Village project, said Monday that she had expected the village would be more fully occupied by now, but understands the challenges of selecting suitable applicants. It’s particularly difficult, she said, “among homeless people with a dual diagnosis of a mental health illness and an addiction.”
One of the county’s biggest concerns and a reason for caution is because of liability issues. “You don’t want somebody overdosing or hurting somebody else,” O’Malley said. “We made promises to the community and the neighborhood that we were going to vet people very carefully, that it wasn’t going to turn into a flop house.”
The Tiny Homes Village was largely funded by Bernalillo County. It is located at 105 Texas SE, on the grounds of the Albuquerque Indian Center, which will manage the village.