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ABQ homeless numbers drop, but many live without a house
As part of our Curious New Mexico project, we received several questions about Albuquerque’s homeless population, including what is being done for homeless individuals with substance abuse or mental health concerns. UNM student Cynthia Baker looked at the question “Why does the homeless population seem to be so large in Albuquerque? There are always homeless people around Central, close to the University and off of Avenida Cesar Chavez.”
Much like the clients they serve, many of the agencies working to tackle issues surrounding homelessness are largely concentrated in downtown Albuquerque.
“The population is definitely spread out throughout the city, but at the same time there is a higher concentration downtown because that’s where the services are. That’s not to say all services are centralized, but a large number of them are,” said Cynthia Cisneros, development officer at Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless. Cisneros said access is often dependent on bus routes.
Tallying the homeless in Albuquerque
Periodic snapshots help measure whether agency efforts to end homelessness are having an impact.
“A volunteer effort during one week in January, called Point in Time, aims to get as close a number as possible during early morning outreaches,” said Kristin Fleming, Planning Assistant at the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.
Founded in 2000, the mission of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness is “to assist communities to create solutions to homelessness from prevention through permanent housing by using action, advocacy, and awareness.”
“The hard part about New Mexico is that we’re a high poverty, high unemployment state. It’s not just about people being homeless. It’s about the overall ability to access resources. It can get really complicated,” Fleming said.
The number of homeless individuals in Albuquerque dropped by 832 between 2009 and 2013, according to Point in Time data. Results for 2015 are due to be released soon. Point in Time reports are found here. According to report methodology, the Department of Housing and Urban Development considers a person homeless if they are staying in emergency shelter, transitional housing, or sleeping outside in a place not meant for human habitation.
Homeless people in Albuquerque
Five-year plan aims to find more homes
A Community Response to Homelessness, a five year strategic plan drafted by community leaders, established goals to help end homelessness. They include:
- Increase access to stable and affordable housing
- Improve health and stability
- Increase economic security
- Rebuild the homeless crisis response system
- Build the community and political will needed to end homelessness
AHCH operates an integrated and comprehensive healthcare system, Cisneros said. “We take care of the whole person. We also believe housing is health care. As soon as someone gets housed, their health status immediately begins to improve,” Cisneros said.
According to the website, AHCH offers primary medical care, psychiatric, eye, dermatology, podiatry, and other specialty clinics, as well as social and behavioral health services. They offer a voucher program for clients with medical diagnoses who need shelter for recuperation.
Providing housing for the most vulnerable
Launched in 2012, the Albuquerque Heading Home mission states the organization envisions “an Albuquerque where homelessness is rare, short-lived, and nonrecurring.” The program specifically targets people who are medically vulnerable and chronically homeless.
“Our definition of ‘medically vulnerable’ comes from a nationwide study that determines the most likely reasons why someone would die living on the streets. The reasons are: acute medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, and kidney disease. Our program specifically targets people who have those medical conditions,” said Angie Scherbarth, program manager for Albuquerque Heading Home.
“In the first year, we were able to get 75 people into permanent housing. To date, 370 individuals have been helped, with an 80 percent retention rate,” Scherbarth said.
“We’re implementing a centralized intake system so if anyone receives services from any of the agencies in town, they are all going to be in one database so that we are able to identify them, but also be sure the right people are considered for housing in their vulnerability order,” Scherbarth said.
“We have recently expanded to help house veterans who are not able to access VA services, and we’re also helping families,” Scherbarth said.
Overall, Scherbarth said the program is helping reduce the number of homeless people on Albuquerque’s streets.
“The target population we are trying to help, we are definitely reducing that number,” she said.
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