Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The residents of the Tiny Homes Village are planning a communal Thanksgiving meal – albeit a relatively tiny gathering. There’s now only five occupants, down from eight last July.
The nearly $5 million transitional housing project for homeless people was designed with 30 stand-alone, 120-square-foot homes and communal buildings for toilets, showers, cooking, laundry and meeting spaces.
It opened in February after a number of COVID-related construction supply line delays, and county officials expected it would be fully occupied by July, according to information posted earlier on the county’s website.
That did not happen.
According to Bernalillo County Spokesman Tom Thorpe, two occupants of the Tiny Homes Village had a relapse, became disruptive and were forced to leave. A third occupant died from a pre-existing health issue.
The county is now reviewing the vetting process for potential residents. The 2021 Point-in-Time survey counted about 1,560 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque.
“We’ve been looking into the requirements to live there, and there’s the possibility they may be a bit too stringent, so we’re reassessing and reworking those,” said Thorpe. “Some of the people who didn’t fit the requirements for one reason or another and who were passed over might be suitable residents.”
Ilse Biel, the village’s resource manager, previously told the Journal that the screening process for applicants had proven to be not only time consuming, but a bit too restrictive for many members of this population.
Under the current guidelines, applicants with addictions are required to be in recovery, not have any extreme behavioral or mental health issues, and not be registered sex offenders or have been found guilty of sex crimes.
Once admitted into the program, residents may not use alcohol or non-prescription drugs or bring them onto the campus. Residents are also expected to participate in governing the village, help screen new applicants, do communal chores, share in security and maintenance, and work on personal growth with case managers and others providing social services and resources.
Never intended as an emergency shelter, residents can remain at the Tiny Homes Village for up to two years while they are surrounded by social services, find employment and become independent and financially stable enough to exit and afford their own housing.
Shortage of case workers
Another problem has been the absence of full-time, on-site case managers at the village. Thorpe, however, said that the residents have access to part-time occupational therapists and social workers who visit the village.
In addition, they can access a host of resources through the county’s Behavioral Health Services Department, as well as community resources like Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless.
Carolyn Chavez, the newly hired administrator for the Tiny Homes Village, said as the screening process and the rules for living in the village are reevaluated, the application process, temporarily put on hold, will start up again, although she was unable to provide a timeline.
The Tiny Homes Village is located on the grounds of a once weed-strewn lot behind the Albuquerque Indian Center at 105 Texas SE. Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley spearheaded the Tiny Homes Village project and fought against a prevailing “not in my backyard” sentiment from neighborhoods considered as potential sites.
The location search was resolved when the AIC offered its property, which was already serving homeless people.
“I am disappointed, but I’m going to take some responsibility here,” O’Malley said. “I think in a lot of ways, we haven’t been able to respond quickly enough. First of all, we should know that as a county we can’t turn around and hire people right away. It doesn’t work that way. It takes anywhere from three to six months. Frankly, we should have staffed-up when we opened the village.”
O’Malley also said if on-site case managers were in place, the village may have been able to intervene and prevent the relapse of the two former residents who were forced to leave.
Still, she remains optimistic.
“The Tiny Homes Village is beautiful and it’s not going anywhere. I really believe everybody is very committed to the success of this project,” she said. “We just made some errors.”
That, however, should not impact the village’s current residents, who have roofs over their heads, a clear vision and much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.