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HUD report sees fewer NM homeless; local agencies disagree

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Homelessness in New Mexico continues to decline, according to the 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That report shows homelessness in New Mexico declined by 13.9 percent from 2015 to 2016, and by 24.9 percent from 2007 through 2016.

a00_jd_18nov_homelessnessHUD estimates that from 2015 on, New Mexico experienced a 26.5 percent reduction among homeless families, a 61 percent decrease in veteran homelessness, and a 9.3 percent decline in individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

“Every person deserves a safe, stable place to call home,” said HUD Secretary Juli├ín Castro in a news release that accompanied the release of the report. “The Obama Administration has made unprecedented progress toward ending homelessness and today marks the seventh straight year of measurable progress.”

The homelessness estimates are based on the last Point-in-Time count, or PIT, done in January 2016. During these nationwide counts, volunteers in communities across the country identify and count individuals and families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, on the streets, under bridges and in cars, abandoned buildings, parks and other places not meant for human habitation.

While the upbeat HUD study shows year-to-year declines in the numbers of homeless, some Albuquerque homeless providers aren’t buying it.

The PIT places the number of homeless in Albuquerque at about 1,300.

“I certainly don’t agree with HUD,” said pastor Danny Whatley, director of The Rock at Noon Day. “The numbers we’re seeing are increasing at our location. We’re seeing a lot of faces we’ve never seen before and we’re seeing younger people and millennials.”

Based on the number of homeless people Noon Day and other shelters and service providers see day in and day out, the homeless total in Albuquerque is probably in the range of 4,500 to 5,000, Whatley said. In addition, the number of homeless Title 1 kids in the Albuquerque Public Schools also exceeds the HUD estimate, he said.

APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said Thursday that the number of homeless kids enrolled in APS in the last five years has ranged from 4,000 to 6,500, depending on changing definitions of who is homeless and how to count them.

Based on the number of people seen at Joy Junction, the state’s largest homeless shelter, HUD estimates are clearly an undercount, said shelter founder Jeremy Reynalds. He believes the PIT count “is false, misleading, disingenuous and should be scrapped because it makes people think homelessness is going down, and it may be the way HUD counts, but their count does not reflect reality.”

Since 2007, “there has been an increase in permanent supportive housing” in Albuquerque, which no doubt factors into the decline tracked by HUD, said Lisa Huval, associate director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. However, the count does not include people who sleep on friends’ couches, find temporary shelter in cheap motels and other “unsheltered” people who simply cannot be located.

The PIT survey is a mere “snapshot of one night” and is certainly an undercount, Huval said, “but it’s probably not a vast undercount.”