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Albuquerque initiative to house homeless marks 5 years

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five years after the city inaugurated the Albuquerque Heading Home initiative, more than 500 formerly homeless people have been placed in permanent homes and the program has become something of a national model as other cities try to duplicate it.

A celebration to mark that fifth anniversary was held at the Albuquerque Heading Home offices on Thursday, where program head Dennis Plummer and his staff launched a social media campaign in which people were asked to write #EndHomelessness on their palms, place their hands in a pan of green vegetable dye, and then challenge others to do the same.

Green is the color of the Albuquerque Heading Home logo, and represents the color of money, a reminder that the program is saving taxpayer dollars. People who’d rather not dye their hands can go to ABQHeadingHome.org, and click on the donate button.

Mayor Richard Berry told those assembled that when the program started, “we set a simple goal, to make Albuquerque a place where we take on of the most profound challenge in American cities, face it head-on and make a difference for people.”

Five years later, he said, 524 people who might otherwise be living on the streets and sleeping under overpasses have roofs over their heads.

“Their lives have been changed,” the mayor said.

Berry said the initiative, which reaches out to the most chronically homeless and medically vulnerable to get them into housing, is “the smart way to do the right thing.”

The city commissioned economics experts at the University of New Mexico to conduct a fiscal impact study, which found that housing the most fragile of the homeless and providing them with a range of social services to address the problems that led to homelessness was 31 percent less expensive than allowing them to remain on the streets.

The savings were realized in such things as reduced reliance on hospital emergency room visits, better monitoring of medications, fewer calls to first responders for assistance, and less chance of their getting involved with the justice system and having to be spend time in jail.

Among those 524 people being housed, 177 are veterans and 122 are families, Plummer said. A point in time count puts the number of homeless in Albuquerque at no less than 1,287 on any given night, which he acknowledged was “an undercount.”

Danny Whatley, executive director The Rock at Noon Day, which provides services for the poor and homeless and is a partner with Albuquerque Heading Home, said he has noticed an attitude change among the homeless. “There’s hope and excitement about the opportunity to be housed,” he said.

He related the story of a woman who was among the first to be housed by Albuquerque Heading Home.

“She passed away last week, but she passed away housed,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “She passed away living in a home instead of on the street. As someone from the faith community, I certainly see the importance and need and the value of this program.”

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