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Albuquerque’s homeless families need help, and now » Albuquerque Journal

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There is a crisis in Albuquerque – one which has nothing to do with civil unrest or national politics – and one which the city must immediately address.

According to the city’s director of Family and Community Services, the city’s COVID-19 emergency shelter system was out of space last week for homeless families. In other words, “no vacancy” for children and their families at the city’s Westside Emergency Housing Center or within the city’s network of “wellness” hotels.

As of Jan. 19, the city’s shelter-hotel system was accommodating 768 people. Among that total were 87 families that included 186 children.

Think about that for a moment – almost 200 children are living in hotels on a temporary basis in our city, with an untold number of others sleeping outdoors or in vehicles while temperatures drop into the 20s at night.

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While there is still room for adult men and women, Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce says the family units at hotels are full because of the “staggering” number of children. “As soon as (an opening) comes up, they are rapidly filled,” Pierce says. Albuquerque Public Schools estimates that at any given time over the course of a school year, there are about 3,000 students who don’t have a permanent address, including students who live in motels or stay with family or friends.

The homeless crisis requires emergency action by Albuquerque and its partnering agencies, which have established five shelter-hotel operations in the city. The Albuquerque City Council needs to approve an emergency appropriation so the city can immediately expand the shelter-hotel program for families and certain other clients, such as people at high risk of COVID-19 complications or who are showing symptoms.

On Monday, the city announced it is putting $1 million in HVAC, ADA, trash and parking lot upgrades at the Westside Emergency Housing Center. Important, yet it does nothing to add capacity for the hundreds of men, women and children sleeping on our streets. The West Side shelter used to have 450 beds, but COVID-safe practices cut that in half. One of the big cuts was the shelter’s “family pod.”

Keep that in mind as the debate continues over the morphing “Gateway Center,” including how many shelter beds for what populations in which part of town.

Meanwhile, the city needs to open up more motel rooms for homeless families.

And while it opens motel rooms, the best model would be for men, women and homeless families to be housed at hotels dedicated to their population.

These groups of people are struggling with very different issues that have led to their homeless situation – children whose families are dealing with unemployment and women fleeing abuse should not have to navigate a parking lot of single men struggling with addiction. And given the lack of travel under COVID-19, there are plenty of hotels with vacancies in the city.

A Point-in-Time count in 2019 showed New Mexico with a the highest percentage increase in homelessness in the nation at 57.6%. The last sheltered/unsheltered count in 2019 put the number of homeless people in Albuquerque at just over 1,500, although operators of homeless shelters and meal programs say the actual number was probably in the range of 4,000 to 4,500. And that was pre-pandemic.

People can debate all day long whether homelessness is more a result of personal behavior or economic disparities. But there should be no debate that every child deserves a clean, warm bed every single night.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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