This story is a staff report from The Paper.

Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.


City Struggles With Growing Homeless Population

It is estimated by the City of Albuquerque that there are at least 1,500 people who are sleeping on the streets each night. If you live in Albuquerque, you’ve seen the One Albuquerque Housing Fund signs at busy intersections and billboards around the city, encouraging drivers to donate to the city’s homelessness initiative rather than giving a “handout” to those on the street. No one denies that homelessness and displacement is a growing problem in the city. In 2018 Mayor Tim Keller announced that the city was going to employ a multipronged approach to dealing with homelessness. That approach included creating a Downtown Public Safety District, partnering with outside organizations for addiction and housing support, opening a 24-hour shelter and providing housing vouchers. So where do those efforts stand now, and how effective have they been?

The Council 

Mayor Keller admitted there is no silver bullet, and so he created the Albuquerque Homeless Advisory Council in 2019. The council is composed of leaders from service providers such as Healthcare for the Homeless and the Barrett House Foundation along with several representatives from neighborhood associations, spiritual leaders and health professionals. Although the council was supposed to convene every January, April, July and October, the council has yet to meet this year since January.

The main purpose behind the advisory council is to strategize how to open the Gateway Center, which would be a large transitional housing project that could hold up to 300 people. Several sites were evaluated, but the mayor was intent on building the site at UNM.

One advisory council member said meetings were disorganized and city administration was not open to council suggestions. As recently as August of this year, the council was instructed to “go back to square one,” after it became obvious the UNM site was no longer a possibility.

Money on the Table

The city’s total operating budget for homelessness outreach and services last year was $17 million. Recently, city officials admitted that federal dollars meant for emergency housing initiatives for FY19 and FY20 had gone unspent to the tune of $700,000. As with most government funding, it’s a “use it or lose it” scenario, and the city lost it. Money that could have been spent on transitional housing or emergency re-housing was left unspent, and then given back to the feds. Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director of Housing and Homelessness, said the department contracted with two agencies for street outreach, which spent just under half a million dollars. Heading Home received $360,000 and HopeWorks received $70,000. Duval said the federal dollars were unspent due to lack of oversight.

Give Me More

Despite not spending the federal dollars allocated, the Mayor’s Office made a one-time emergency ask of the City Council for additional $2 million for housing vouchers in 2019. To date, the city has spent only $100,000 of that $2 million. The Housing and Homelessness Department finally laid out a plan at a City Council meeting on Nov. 16, 2020 on how to spend the money. Huval said the department planned on spending the money in 2021 and believed that the city could use the funds for rapid rehousing for 135 families for 12 months. She went on to say studies have shown that the model of support for rehousing for at least 12 months is enough time for people who are able to become more self-sufficient. Huval stated that, although it was taking a bit longer than the city anticipated, she believed that the plan moving forward was attainable with the extra funding.

What About One Albuquerque?

Signs asking for donations to the One Albuquerque fund are located throughout the city. The fund hasn’t received as many donations for homelessness as it had hoped for, but claims it’s a popular tool for the public. In November of 2019, the city issued a press release announcing a $25,000 check was given to the Barrett Foundation for permanent rehousing. Another $8,000 check was given to the Supportive Housing Coalition. The release stated that they had received a total of $35,000 in donations, although it wasn’t clear if the donations were from corporations or individuals. The city had no readily available numbers on the actual marketing budget for the One Albuquerque Housing Fund. No information has been provided on donations to the fund since last November.

With all of the money available for homeless and displaced persons outreach, there are multiple organizations throughout the city that are able and willing to help. With over 1,500 people on the streets each night, a number which shows no sign of slowing, bureaucracy and red tape seems to be the biggest hurdle to housing the city’s homeless. [  ]