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NM is 46th in U.S. for child homelessness

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new report ranks New Mexico as one of the worst states in the nation for child homelessness.

The report, “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” was released Monday by the National Center on Family Homelessness, part of the American Institutes for Research. Ranking states from 1 (best) to 50 (worst), New Mexico filled the No. 46 position.

The report uses the latest comprehensive federal and state data, including the U.S. Department of Education’s annual count of homeless children in public schools, and U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013.

New Mexico’s 46th ranking is based on a composite of four areas, or “domains,” child psychologist Carmela DeCandia, director of the National Center on Family Homelessness, said Monday.

These include the extent of child homelessness (NM ranks 44); the well-being of children (NM ranks 37); the risk for family homelessness (NM ranks 44); and a state’s policies and planning on issues of child and family homelessness (NM ranks 38).

New Mexico has 22,463 children age 17 or younger who are homeless, which means “children are living in shelters, neighbors’ basements, cars, campgrounds and worse,” DeCandia said.

Nationally, according to the report, 2.5 million children age 17 and younger, or one in every 30 in the United States, experience homelessness each year. That total represents an increase of 8 percent from 2012 through 2013.

A particular risk factor in New Mexico is the high poverty rate, “particularly for female heads of household who are raising families,” DeCandia said. “That group struggles the most with poverty issues.” In New Mexico, 29 percent of children are living in poverty, based on federal poverty guidelines.

“Another big risk factor is the disparity between the New Mexico minimum wage of $7.50 an hour and the $14.42 an hour income needed for a two-bedroom apartment, which is what would be required for a typical family of a mother and two children,” DeCandia said.

New Mexico’s teen birth rate of 47.5 births per 1,000 teens, the highest in the country, “is also a very high risk factor for homelessness,” DeCandia said, as is the state’s weak focus on policy and planning to specifically deal with the problems of child homelessness.

“Homelessness has a devastating impact on children that can last a lifetime” and “negatively effects brain development,” said Veronica C. Garcia, executive director of the child advocacy organization New Mexico Voices for Children.

“We can’t positively impact the lives of children unless we look at the family as a whole, and ensure families have the support systems everyone needs to thrive and be successful.”

Henry Varela, spokesman for the state Children, Youth and Families Department, acknowledged that homelessness is widespread among families with children.

“We currently work closely with shelters throughout the state to help provide services and assistance to these children in need, and we also work to help these children and families to find housing through programs in their communities,” he said.

In addition to having the highest teen birth rate in the country, the state has the second-highest overall poverty rate, at 21.9 percent, a rate exceeded only by Mississippi.

Further, according to New Mexico Voices for Children, the state ranks second-highest for teen alcohol and drug abuse; our teen suicide rate is twice the national average; drug overdose deaths in New Mexico among all ages is twice the national average; and one third of teens have been affected by depression.

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