On May 22, the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) held one of its regularly scheduled meetings. A report on the state’s homeless and the affordable housing shortage was delivered to the committee for review and discussion. The report included the preliminary estimates yet to be finalized 2023 Point In Time (PIT) annual homeless count. It expected the final report will be released in August. This is the first of two separate reports on the LFC’s Report on Homelessness and Affordable Housing.
Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country including New Mexico. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help understand the extent of homelessness at the city, state, regional and national levels.
NEW MEXICO HOMELESS INCREASE
According to the LFC Report on Homelessness and Affordable Housing, New Mexico’s homeless has increased 48% in 2023 compared with last year. The LFC report found New Mexico’s emergency homeless shelter capacity has more than doubled since 2016, especially in the Albuquerque area, as the supply of affordable housing across the state has dropped.
This year Legislative Finance Committee staff accompanied volunteers on the annual Point In Time (PIT) counts of the homeless across the state that occurred in January. What they found was that in 2023, about half the emergency shelter beds available were used the night of the PIT count taken in January, indicating overall adequate bed numbers statewide for those individuals who wish to use them.
However, shelter accessibility was reported as a challenge for some people, potentially lowering shelter utilization rates because some individual emergency shelters are full, and others are hard to reach. For example, the largest emergency shelter in Albuquerque, the Westside Emergency Housing Center, is 18.5 miles from downtown Albuquerque. The round trip by shuttle takes up to four hours, leaving people experiencing homelessness less time to seek services or employment.
According to HUD, in the decade between 2012 and 2022, homelessness on a given night in January declined by 28% in New Mexico. The 2023 PIT preliminary data indicated a significant 48% uptick in the state’s homeless population going from upwards of 2,600 people to nearly 4,000 people. The increase was reportedly driven primarily by an increase in the unsheltered count with 780 more people in Albuquerque and 232 more in the rest of the state.
According to the National Institutes of Health, estimating the magnitude of New Mexicans experiencing homelessness is challenging, due to a lack of consistent definitions, the mobility of the population, and the potential changing status of those experiencing homelessness. Nevertheless, HUD provides guidance for annual point-in-time (PIT) and housing inventory (HIC) counts.
HUD tracks the number of emergency shelter beds in New Mexico and how many are used on the night of the PIT count in January, when the weather is cold and emergency shelter use is generally at its peak. Through the housing inventory count (HIC), HUD creates an annual inventory of provider programs that provide beds and units dedicated to serving people experiencing homelessness.
The 2023 New Mexico Legislature appropriated $84 million for housing and homeless programs, but the LFC report found the amount may not be enough and some market-driven forces will be difficult to reverse.
During the May 22 LFC hearing, LFC program analyst Kathleen Gygi and others presented the findings. The new data presented to the committee revealed the state’s emergency shelter capacity has more than doubled since 2016, while the supply of affordable rental units has declined by 50% since 2020. Gygi said this:
“Homelessness is visible. It’s tragic and it’s increasing. … The state as a whole is doing very well in providing emergency shelter for those most at need and at risk. … However, we’re not doing such a good job at moving people into permanent housing. … We do not have enough affordable housing to systematically move people out of homelessness. … Poverty rates are high, labor participation is low. There is high substance abuse rates. These are all things that compound the problems.”
The May 22 LFC report found the state lacks enough transitional and permanent housing to help people exit homelessness and found the need for an estimated 859 additional housing units for the state’s homeless population. The estimated cost would be $11.4 million annually to accomplish. According to the LFC report, the state stands to lose an estimated 5% of its roughly 29,000 publicly assisted rental units over the next five years due to expiring affordability commitments or deterioration.
Senator Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, asked if the proliferation of vacation rentals in some New Mexico cities and towns is contributing to the affordable housing shortage. Siah said this:
“As soon as a house comes on the market, someone from California will come and buy it and convert it into a vacation rental.”
In response, state housing officials said the issue does appear to be contributing to the state’s housing problem, but is not the sole factor.
Links to quoted sources are here:
HIGHLIGHTS OF LFC REPORT ON HOMELESSNESS
The LFC Report on Homelessness and Affordable Housing is 31 pages long and contains numerous graphs and charts. The major take aways that can be gleaned from review of the report on the homeless are as follows:
RISK FACTORS FOR HOMELESSNESS AND HOUSING INSECURITY IN NEW MEXICO PERFORMANCE
According to the LFC report the causes of homelessness points to many risk factors representative of vulnerable situations and populations. These risk factors include disconnection from formal employment; lower educational achievement; involvement with the criminal justice system; and physical, mental, and behavioral health challenges, including substance use disorder.
The following 7 risk factors for homelessness and housing insecurity were identified:
“POVERTY: Nearly 1-in-5 New Mexicans live below the federal poverty line. New Mexico ranks 3rd in the country in poverty
LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION: In 2022, the labor force participation rate in New Mexico was 55%, compared to 62% nationally. New Mexico ranks 4th in labor force participation.
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH: Over 1-in-5 adults in New Mexico have a mental illness. Nearly 1 in 5 youths had a major depressive episode in the last year. New Mexico ranks 29th for adult mental health disorders and 17th youth mental health disorders in the country.
PHYSICAL HEALTH: Nearly 1-in-10 adults in New Mexico have multiple chronic health conditions.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE: On average, every day five New Mexicans die of alcohol-related causes, and nearly three die from a drug overdose. New Mexico ranks 1st alcohol-related deaths and 2nd in drug overdose deaths in the country.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: In New Mexico, over 1-in-3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Nearly 6,000 children suffered maltreatment in New Mexico in 2021. New Mexico ranks 26th in the country for domestic violence and 8th for child maltreatment.
INCARCERATION: New Mexico has a relatively low incarceration rate, with 203 individuals incarcerated per population of 100,000.”
Quoting the report:
“People experiencing unsheltered homelessness are more likely to exhibit multiple risk factors. These individuals also tend to have higher service needs and, as a result, tend to be more frequent users of community services, such as emergency room visits and inpatient and outpatient treatments, and require more acute care.
In New Mexico and nationwide, African Americans and Native Americans are overrepresented among individuals experiencing homelessness. While African Americans made up 2.7 percent of the state’s population in 2021, they accounted for 8.6 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness according to HUD.
Native Americans made up 11 percent of the state’s population in 2021, but HUD reports they represented 17 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness. Unlike on-the-street homelessness, in tribal areas, homelessness often translates into overcrowding: 16 percent of households experience overcrowding compared with 2 percent of all U.S. households, according to the New Mexico Housing Strategy report commissioned by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA).”
HOMELESSNESS CARRIES SIGNIFICANT IMMEDIATE AND LONG-TERM COSTS TO TAXPAYERS
“Homelessness carries significant immediate and long-term costs to taxpayers. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that an individual experiencing homelessness can cost taxpayers between $30 thousand and $50 thousand per year in hospitalization, medical treatment, emergency shelters, and incarceration.”
“In 2023, the cost to New Mexico taxpayers, based on an estimated population of 3,842 individuals experiencing homelessness recorded in the annual point-in-time counts, would be $98.5 million to $192 million. Society also faces long-term costs from the effects of homelessness on youth. New Mexico has consistently had a higher rate of homeless students than the nation, with an estimated 3% of students facing housing insecurity during the 2022 school year (or 10.6 thousand students).”
PERFORMANCE LAGS IN TRANSITIONING PEOPLE TO PERMANENT HOUSING
“People in New Mexico remain in emergency shelters or transitional housing for half the time of the national average, but governments and providers are less successful at moving people from temporary shelters to permanent housing. For example, in Albuquerque, about 1 in 5 people in shelters or other temporary housing transition to permanent housing each year. This is about half the rate in the rest of the state and nationally … . This low transition rate to permanent housing reflects the relatively high rate of return to an emergency shelter within two years in Albuquerque … . Potential reasons for this performance in Albuquerque could include a more vulnerable homeless population, insufficient social services, insufficient subsidies, or a tight housing market.”
“HUD does not report this data for Las Cruces or Santa Fe, which are included in the rest of the state continuum of care reporting. These issues are common in urban versus rural areas in Western states. For example, Phoenix and Tucson have similarly high return-to-shelter rates compared with the rest of Arizona at 26% percent, 23% and 18%, respectively. However, Arizona has higher rates of transitioning to permanent housing at 40%, 54%, and 32% for the two cities and the rest of the state.”
NEW MEXICO’S PERMANENT SUPPORTIVE HOUSING PROGRAM FILLS A NEED FOR HIGH-RISK INDIVIDUALS WITH A SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS
[The Linkages Program is a] state-funded permanent supportive housing program designed to provide rental subsidies, utility assistance, and supportive services to extremely low-income adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and diagnosed with severe mental illness. The Behavioral Health Services Division at the Human Services Department administers the Linkages Program.
While most existing supportive housing in New Mexico (over 2,450 housing units) is federally or locally funded, the state’s Linkages Program plays an important role in reaching individuals who may fail to meet narrow federal voucher eligibility requirements, or need housing more immediately than can otherwise be provided. Linkages sites require a support service agency to provide case management, managed by the Behavioral Health Services Division of the Human Services Department, and a housing administrator to identify housing units and distribute vouchers, managed by the Mortgage Finance Authority.”
NEW MEXICO LACKS SUFFICIENT TRANSITIONAL AND PERMANENT SUPPORTIVE HOUSING TO HELP PEOPLE SUCCESSFULLY EXIT HOMELESSNESS
“A 2022 New Mexico Housing Strategy report commissioned by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority estimated transitional housing only accounts for 1% of the $123 million public allocations to rental assistance in 2022 and 7% of the $123 million that went to permanent supportive housing. The report noted several estimates ranging from 6,500 to 8,400 units needed for populations, including the chronically homeless, people on the state’s developmental disabilities waiting list, and people exiting prison or mental health institutions.”
“Considering only homeless populations, LFC staff estimate New Mexico could benefit from another 859 permanent supportive housing units based on cost estimates from the state’s Linkages program and a methodology from the Corporation for Supportive Housing … . Using an existing cost estimate from Linkages, which spends about $13,300 per client annually, state and local governments could fund such housing at an annual cost of approximately $11.4 million annually. However, more recurring funding will not be the only barrier to increasing supportive housing. The New Mexico Housing Strategy report also noted that existing supportive housing providers are oversubscribed, and there is a shortage of providers to take on any expanded work. Further, the general lack of affordable housing units also impacts availability of units to house supportive housing clients.”
THE “POINT IN TIME” SURVEY
Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help understand the extent of homelessness at the city, state, regional and national levels.
PIT follows the HUD definition of homelessness and counts only people who are sleeping in a shelter, in a transitional housing program, or outside in places not meant for human habitation. Those people who are not counted are those who do not want to participate in the survey, who are sleeping in motels that they pay for themselves, or who are doubled up with family or friends.
The PIT count includes “Sheltered Count”, “Unsheltered Count” and a “Transitional Housing Count.”
The Sheltered Count is the count of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in emergency shelter and transitional housing on a single night. Sheltered homeless also include homeless “residing in an emergency a motel paid through a provider or in a transitional housing program.” It does not include people who are doubled up with family or friends.
The Unsheltered are defined as those who encamp in neighborhood open space areas, alleys, parks, high-traffic areas and points of congregation, meal service sites, and general service sites. The Unsheltered Count uses surveys and street outreach to account for individuals and families experiencing unsheltered homelessness on the night of the count.
“Transitional Housing Count” is exactly what the category implies and consists of homeless who have received government housing assistance and will eventually moved into permanent housing of their own.
Through the PIT counts, HUD annually tracks the number of people and families that experience homelessness, but only reports data for the two continuum of care organizations it funds: the city of Albuquerque and the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH) for all other locations in the state. Each year about half of the state’s individuals experiencing homelessness are in Albuquerque. HUD does not report how the other half are dispersed throughout the state.
2022 NEW MEXICO’S HOMELESS NUMBERS RECALLED
Comparing this years PIT numbers of homeless to past numbers is essential to understanding the extent of the increase. The 2022 Point in Time Survey was released last year in August, 2022. The 2022 survey included the total estimated number of people counted during the Balance of State Point-in-Time counts for every other year from 2009 – 2022 with a measurable decline over the years. New Mexico’s numbers for the last 13 calculated ever 2 years are as follows:
EDITOR’S NOTE: These numbers do not include homeless counted in Albuquerque.
Page 18, Point in Time Survey,
The total estimated number of households experiencing homelessness in Balance of State on January 31, 2022 were reported are as follows:
Totals of HOUSEHOLDS with one child, without children and with only children:
Emergency Shelters: 574
Transitional Housing: 70
Page 17, Point in Time Survey
The total estimated number of INDIVIDUALS with one child, without children and with only children experiencing homelessness in the Balance of State on January 31, 2022 :
Emergency Shelters: 785
Transitional Housing: 107
Page 17, Point in Time Survey
In August, the 2022 the Point In Time (PIT) homeless survey reported that the number total homeless in Albuquerque was 1,311 with 940 in emergency shelters, 197 unsheltered and 174 in transitional housing. Surprisingly, the survey found that there were 256 fewer homeless in 2022 than in 2021 which was 1,567. In 2019, the PIT found 1,524 homeless.
The 2022 PIT report provides the odd number years of shelter and unsheltered homeless in Albuquerque for 8 years from 2009 to 2019 and including 2022. During the last 12 years, PIT yearly surveys have counted between 1,300 to 1,600 homeless a year. Those numbers are: 2011: 1,639, 2013: 1,171, 2015:1,287, 2017: 1,318, 2019: 1,524, 2021: 1,567 and 2022: 1,311.
The 1,311 figures in the 2022 PIT report is the lowest number of unsheltered reported for the last 5 years. According to the 2022 PIT report there were 256 fewer homeless in January 2022 than in January 2021, yet the public perception is that the city is overrun by the homeless likely because they have become far more aggressive, more assertive and more visible.
According to the LFC report, the 2023 Albuquerque unsheltered count increase by 780 more people. In otherwards Albuquerque homeless went from 1,311 in 2022 as reported by PIT to 2,091 as reported by the LFC.
The link to review the entire 2022 PIT is here:
HOMELESSNESS IN AMERICA
A national data compilation organization reports that in 2022, there were 582,500 individuals experiencing homelessness on a single night across the nation as was found by the Point In Time (PIT) survey. There are 10 states that stand out for their particularly high homeless populations. These states are:
- California (171,521)
- New York (74,178)
- Florida (25,959)
- Washington (25,211)
- Texas (24,432)
- Oregon (17,959)
- Massachusetts (15,507)
- Arizona (13,553)
- Pennsylvania (12,691)
- Georgia (10,689)
The link to the quoted source material is here:
DRUG ADDICTION AND MENTAL ILLNESS
According to last year’s 2022 PIT annual report, there were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque. Of the 1,567 homeless in Albuquerque, 30.19% of the homeless self-reported as having a serious mental illness and 25.5% self-reported as substance abusers. There is an overlap with homeless suffering both mental illness and substance abuse. In other words, a whopping 55.69% combined total of those surveyed self-reported as having a serious mental illness or were substance abusers.
The 2022 Point In Time Report provides what it referred to “balance of the state” statistics where the Albuquerque’s homeless numbers were excluded. The total estimated number of households experiencing homelessness in balance of state on January 31, 2022 were reported are as follows:
Totals of HOUSEHOLDS with one child, without children and with only children:
Emergency Shelters: 574
Transitional Housing: 70
Of the 366 unsheltered, 43% were identified as adults with serious mental illness and 40% were identified as adults with substance use disorders or a staggering 83% combined figure.
The PIT report is 40 pages long and includes graphs and pie charts outlining the statistics reported. You can review the entire report at this link:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
New Mexico’s increase in the homeless numbers are serious and need to be addressed. However, the 4,000 figure found by the Point In Time survey in no way comes close to the homeless crisis in the neighboring states of Arizona (13,553) and Texas (24,432). The blunt truth is that the homeless crisis is not as bad in New Mexico as it is in other areas of the country and neighboring states.
It’s not as if government is not doing nothing to address the homeless crisis. Over the last two years in Albuquerque alone, the Keller Administration has spent upwards of $100,000,000 to provide services and shelter to the homeless. It will now be spending another $50 million in fiscal year 2023-2024. The 2023 New Mexico Legislature appropriated $84 million for housing and homeless programs, but the LFC report found the amount may not be enough, yet the state had a $3.6 Billion surplus.
Being homeless is not a crime and government has a moral obligation to help the homeless. It’s not at all likely we will ever be free of the homeless but it must and can be managed and can be reduced. To reduce the numbers of the homeless, the root causes of homelessness must be addressed and not just by housing and shelter. Those root causes include poverty, economic disparity, mental illness and drug addiction.
It is in the area treatment of mental illness and drug addiction that significant efforts need to be made when dealing with the homeless and that will have an immediate impact. Then there is the matter of the homeless who simply refuse any and all services, including housing, emergency shelter, mental illness treatment and drug addiction treatment and counselling.
The 2022 PIT data breakdown for the unsheltered for the years 2009 to 2022 reports that 46% of the unsheltered suffer from serious mental illness and that 44% of the unsheltered suffer from substance abuse for a staggering 89% combined total. It is these homeless who refuse government services, who do not want to be housed in shelters and who essentially want to be left alone, to do what they want, when they want and how they want, including illegal activities and illegal camping.
When it comes to the homeless in Albuquerque, 30.19% of the homeless self-reported as having a serious mental illness and 25.5% self-reported as substance abusers. There is an overlap with homeless suffering both mental illness and substance abuse. In other words, a whopping 55.69% combined total of those surveyed self-reported as having a serious mental illness or were substance abusers. When it comes to the balance of the state homeless numbers, 43% were identified as adults with serious mental illness and 40% were identified as adults with substance use disorders or a staggering 83% combined figure.
CREATE “BEHAVIORAL HEALTH TREATMENT COURT” AND BUILD HOSPITAL FOR REFERRALS
Absent from the May 22 LFC report is that mental getting mental health and drug counseling to the homeless is just as critical as housing, temporary shelter and transitional housing. A glaring reality is that much more must be done with the initiation of civil commitment hearings to deal with the mentally ill and the drug addicted who are homeless and a serious danger to themselves and to others to ensure that they get the medical and mental health treatment and counselling services they desperately need before they can be transitioned into gainful employment and housing . A greater emphasis must be made to get those who are homeless and the drug addicted who may or may not be in the criminal justice system the medical care and assistance they need without criminal prosecution and warehousing in the county jail.
There is a critical need for a civil mental health commitment court for the homeless suffering from mental illness or drug addiction and who pose a threat to themselves, their family and the general public. There is an even bigger need for the construction and staffing of a mental health facility or hospital to provide the services.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the legislature should seek to create one single specialty “Behavioral Health Treatment Court” under the direct supervision of the New Mexico Supreme Court that would be an outreach and treatment court for the drug addicted and the mentally ill with an emphasis on the homeless. As it stands now, there exists less than adequate facilities where patients can be referred to for civil mental health commitments and treatment. There is glaring and absolute need for a behavioral health hospital and drug rehabilitation treatment facility.
New Mexico is currently experiencing historical surplus revenues and this past legislative session the legislature had an astonishing $3.6 Billion in surplus revenue. It likely the state will continue to see historic surpluses. Now is the time to create a “Behavioral Health Treatment Court and dedicate funding for the construction of behavioral health hospital and drug rehabilitation treatment facility the courts can rely upon for referrals.