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Albuquerque counts the homeless

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Volunteers and advocates for the homeless are fanning out across the city this week to try to get a handle on just how many people in Albuquerque are homeless.

Early Wednesday, surveys of the homeless were conducted at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center.

Jessica Delgado, left, surveys Andrew Daniels outside St. Martin's center on Wednesday. (Marla Brose/Journal)

Jessica Delgado, left, surveys Andrew Daniels outside St. Martin’s center on Wednesday. (Marla Brose/Journal)

The Point-in-Time Count is being coordinated by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. The count of sheltered homeless individuals, that is, people who stay nightly at any of the area shelters, is done annually, while the count of unsheltered homeless people is conducted every other year, this being one of those years.

The last full count, conducted in 2015, found 1,287 homeless in Albuquerque, said Lisa Maury, program coordinator with the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. She, as well as many homeless service providers, believe that the number is an undercount.

The results of the Point-in-Time Count are reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“HUD uses the information to make educated decisions on where there are gaps in services, or on specific demographics of people who may need additional services,” Maury said. It also uses the data to determine the service providers who may be awarded Continuum of Care Grants, which in Albuquerque funds 23 projects providing housing, she said.

The Point-in-Time Count is done in communities across the country during the last 10 days in January. The communities pick a random day during that time and ask people where they spent that night. In Albuquerque, the point-in-time date was Monday.

The survey also asks how many times in the past three years did the individual experience homelessness or have a “housing crisis;” if they have a physical disability, mental health issue, illness or addiction problem; how long they have lived in New Mexico and where they previously resided; and demographic information such as age, ethnicity and gender identity.

Among the volunteers conducting the surveys Wednesday was Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who said it was important to “find people who are homeless, and talk to them and find out what their circumstances are,” so that a solution can be tailored to each individual.

Berry said Albuquerque’s Heading Home initiative, which moves the most medically fragile and chronically homeless people off the streets and into permanent housing, has become something of a national model. Since its inception in 2011, it has placed 650 people into housing.

The mayor noted that a study done by the University of New Mexico’s Institute for Social Research found it is cheaper to place people in housing and surround them with support services than it is to leave them homeless and out on the streets. For every $1 invested in the initiative, there’s a cost savings return of about $1.78. In total, Berry said, Albuquerque Heading Home has saved taxpayers more than $5 million.

“It’s the smart way to do the right thing,” he said.