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Winter’s chill points out burden of homelessness

Most have long thought of the winter solstice as the official start to winter, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. For others of us, however, the winter solstice – this year on Tuesday also has a much deeper meaning.

The first day of winter is also National Homeless Persons Remembrance Day, a national day to remember and honor those who have died while homeless.

On the first day of winter – a short, dark and cold day – we pause and recognize the devastating and unnecessary causes and consequences of homelessness.

On Jan. 26, 2015, Albuquerque Heading Home and the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness conducted a point-in-time count. That count determined that nearly 1,300 men, women and children are without a home nightly.

Of those, it is estimated that 30 percent, or 354 families, experience homelessness nightly.

People who are homeless continue to be at risk of early and traumatic loss of life and harm to their health and well-being. In fact, a person who is housed will likely live 20 years longer than an individual who is living on the streets.

But where there is life, there is hope.

Each day after the winter solstice is a bit longer than the last. Each day we grow closer and closer to spring, to rebirth and to renewal.

Similarly, here in Albuquerque our collective efforts to end homelessness are gaining momentum and each day we move closer and closer to that goal.

Organizations like Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Supportive Housing Coalition of New Mexico, Crossroads for Women, Cuidando Los Niños, Albuquerque Heading Home and countless others are making strides to address not only the root causes of homelessness – like lack of affordable housing and access to a livable wage – but also providing lifesaving services for those that are currently living in our community without access to housing.

You see, acknowledging that the early loss of life for people who are homeless is unacceptable is one thing, but doing something about it is another.

And Albuquerque is doing something about it.

On a daily basis I am inspired by the efforts of ordinary citizens to do something to help others. With their compassion, commitment and generosity these staff, volunteers, donors and community members become extraordinary heroes.

Over the next few weeks, a handful of staff and volunteers with Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless will gather to call and say thank you to the hundreds of extraordinary heroes for their continued generosity that sustain our organizations work. Perhaps you will be one of the calls we make. If not, I urge you to find a way to become extraordinary in your own way.