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 survey is conducted on only one night to determine how many people experience homelessness and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country in both urban and rural areas, and counting both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people.
The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for funding and to help understand the extent of homelessness at the city, state, regional and national levels.
The City of Albuquerque contracts with The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness to conduct the annual PIT survey. In even-numbered years, only homeless people who stay in shelters are counted. In odd-numbered years, a more comprehensive count is conducted counting people wherever they can be found including people sleeping in cars, in parks, beneath underpasses, commercial entry ways, alleys and anywhere they can be found.
According to city officials, The PIT count requires the use of 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.
HUD defines homelessness as “an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, or has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation, or is living in a publicly or privately operated shelter.”
HUD defines “chronic homelessness” as “a person who has been homeless for one year, or has had four episodes of homelessness over three years with the combined episodes adding up to one year, and has a disabling condition that makes it difficult to obtain housing.”
According to the New Mexico Coalition To End Homelessness, the cause of homelessness and the number of homelessness can be described as follows:
“Homelessness is caused by poverty and a lack of affordable housing. Homelessness has grown dramatically since the 1970’s due primarily to the steady decrease in public benefits for people living in poverty including welfare payments and public housing. In part because of the decrease in spending for public housing, there has been a steady decline in affordable housing. According to the National Coalition to End Homelessness, between 1970 and 1995, the gap between the number of low-income renters and the amount of affordable housing units in the U.S. went from almost no gap to a shortage of 4.4 million affordable housing units.
People who experience homelessness in New Mexico include families with children, people who are working at low-wage jobs, people suffering from mental illness, those with substance abuse problems, migrant workers, runaway or throwaway teens, victims of domestic violence and veterans. In other words, people who experience homelessness are a diverse group of people with a variety of factors contributing to their homelessness.”
2020 PIT REPORT STATISTICS RELEASED
On January 8, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report released the annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress containing the statistics for Albuquerque and New Mexico.
The link to the report is here:
NATIONAL “POINT IN TIME” HOMELESS COUNT
The PIT survey found that an estimated 567,715 people nationwide, both sheltered and unsheltered, were identified as homeless which is a 2.7% increase over 2018. Overall homelessness declined in 29 states and the District of Columbia, but increased in 21 states.
Nationwide, 396,045 people experienced homelessness as individuals, meaning they did not have children with them. Individuals made up 70% of the total homeless population. Half of those who experienced homelessness as individuals were staying in sheltered locations.
According to the HUD report, the number of unsheltered homeless people nationally rose by 8.7%, which includes increases of 15% among unsheltered women and 43% among people who identify as transgender.
California has 53% of all unsheltered homeless people in the country, with 108,432 people living on the streets. California’s homeless numbers are nearly 9 times higher than the number of unsheltered homeless people in Florida, which had the second highest count at 12,476.
According to the report, African Americans “accounted for 40% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019, despite being 13% of the U.S. population.”
The number of homeless Veterans went down. Compared to 2009 numbers there were 40% fewer homeless veterans nationwide during 2019. The number of homeless veterans in 2019 shows a 2% decline from 2018. In raw numbers that means 36,282 fewer homeless veterans than there were in 2009. The decline was attributed to partnerships between HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs in funding supportive housing programs for veterans.
NEW MEXICO “POINT IN TIME” HOMELESS COUNT
According to the PIT, New Mexico had the nation’s largest percentage increase in homelessness from 2018 to 2019 in the nation with an increase of 27%. New Mexico also had a 57.6% increase in chronic homelessness last year, also the highest in the nation. The percentage increase in Albuquerque’s homeless population alone rose by 15%. In New Mexico there were 2,464 homeless people in 2019 and of that total, 1,283 persons, or about 52%, were chronically homeless.
ALBUQUERQUE “POINT IN TIME” HOMELESS COUNT
The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness was contracted by the City of Albuquerque to conduct the annual PIT count. The Coalition puts the number of homeless people in Albuquerque at 1,524 sheltered and unsheltered individuals. This 1,524 is 206 more than were counted in 2017 when 1,318 homeless people were counted in the city limits.
CITY’S NUMBER OF HOMELESS MUCH HIGHER
Under the PIT count, only homeless people who stay in shelters are counted in even-numbered years. Both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people are counted in odd-numbered years. Only those homeless people who can be located are counted, either sheltered or unsheltered, as well as only those who agree to participate in the survey. A 100% accuracy number cannot be determined, only an overall estimate.
The nonprofit Rock At Noon Day offers meals and other services to the homeless. Noon Day Executive Director Danny Whatley believes that based on Noon Day observations, the number of homeless people in Albuquerque is likely between 4,000 and 4,500. What is alarming is that according to Whatley, the fastest-growing segments are senior citizens and millennials defined ad ages 23 to 38 in 2019.
Government agencies and nonprofits report that the city’s homeless numbers are greater than the 1,524 found and the number of homeless in Albuquerque approaches 4,500 in any given year.
Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is New Mexico’s largest school district, serving more than a fourth of the state’s students and nearly 84,000 students. APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta stated the number of homeless children enrolled in district schools, meaning kids from families that have no permanent address, has consistently ranged from 3,200 to 3,500. Johanna King another APS spokesperson said the number includes people who live in motels or who are doubled up with family or friends. APS serves many students in need with nearly two-thirds qualifying for the federal school meals program. The APS school district serves 29,000 breakfast per school day and 41,000 lunches per school day.
City officials have said the number of homeless in Albuquerque may be as much as 5,000. The centralized citywide system known as the Coordinated Entry System that the city uses to track the homeless and fill supportive housing openings reports that approximately 5,000 households experienced homelessness last year.
Links to news stories can be found here:
DESPERATE NEED FOR BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CARE SERVICES
Lisa Huval, deputy director for Housing and Homelessness for the Albuquerque Family and Community Services Department, when asked what was the reason for the increases in homelessness in the City and State, had this to say:
“One of the driving factors in the increase in chronically homeless people in New Mexico is what happened to our behavioral health system under the previous governor, with the dismantling of the behavioral health infrastructure as we knew it amid accusations of Medicaid fraud “This forced a number of providers to close their doors and caused lots of people to lose access to services. In many ways, we’re still recovering from that. … [Another part of the story] , is our state’s struggle with funding and supporting behavioral health programs at the scale they’re needed, and with folks being able to get into housing and being able to stay in housing.”
In June 2013, under the direction of the former Republican Governor, the Human Services Department (HSD) cut off Medicaid funding to 15 behavioral health nonprofits operating in New Mexico. In 2014, more than 160,000 New Mexicans received behavioral health services, with most of those services funded by Medicaid, according to the Human Services Department.
After the audits were completed, the former Republican Administration said that the outside audit showed more than $36 million in over billing, as well as mismanagement and possible fraud. Under the orders of the Republican Governor, Human Services Department agency brought in 5 Arizona providers to take over from New Mexico providers.
In early 2016, following exhaustive investigations, the Attorney General cleared all 15 of the healthcare providers of any wrongdoing and exonerated all of them of fraud. Even though the NM Attorney General found no fraud and cleared the nonprofits of fraud, the damage had been done to the nonprofits. With the Medicaid funding freeze, many of the 15 nonprofits could not continue and just went out of business leaving many patients without a behavioral health service provider.
Lawsuits against the state were initiated by 15 mental health care providers. The administration of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced it has entered into settlement agreements with at least 10 of the behavioral health care providers whose Medicaid funding was frozen in 2013.
EFFORTS TO BUILD FACILITIES
On November 5, voters approved general obligation bonds of $14 million for a city operated 24-7 homeless shelter that will house upwards of 300.
The 24-hour, 7 day a week facility to temporarily shelter the homeless within the city is critical toward reducing the number of homeless in the city. The city owned shelter would assist an estimated 300 homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility would serve all populations, men, women, and families, and a “clearing house” function.
The city facility would have on-site case managers that would guide residents toward addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. According city officials, the new homeless shelter would replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side.
The City is seeking another $14 million in capital funding from the 2020 New Mexico Legislature to build phase two of the city homeless shelter.
On January 13, 2020, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness released a report stating that a one-time $262 million to build permanent supportive housing and fund short-term rental assistance will allow New Mexico to get another $30 million in federal dollars and end homelessness for an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people across the state.
BERNALILLO COUNTY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH TAX COLLECTED BUT FEW PROGRAMS FUNDED
On Feb. 26, 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a 1/8 % gross receipts tax increase on a 3-2 vote to fund new behavioral and mental health services to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county. The tax generates approximately $20 million annually.
When enacted, the county commission announced the intent for the tax was to invest the funding “in proven ways to better manage the high cost of addiction, homelessness and mental health problems”. According to a county commission announcement, “these issues impact families throughout the community and drive up the cost of public services, especially at the Metropolitan Detention Center.” The gross receipts tax costs shoppers one cent on a $10 purchase of goods and services.
The 1/8th% gross receipts tax was supposed to be used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area. The intent is to provide a safety net system for those in need of mental health not otherwise funded in New Mexico.
When the Bernalillo County Commission approved the tax, it failed to develop a plan on how all the money would be used, including not identifying services to be provides, location of facilities and qualifiers to obtain the services offered. As a result of having no spending plan or identifying priorities, the tax has been collected but not spent. Since enactment of the tax in 2015, the tax has generated $91.6 million. Bernalillo County has approved a mere $20 million toward Behavioral Health Initiative projects with $70 million in tax revenue having accumulated but not spent.
The county has earmarked the bulk of what it has amassed for one-time expenditures. Those expenditures include $30 million for a new crisis triage center, $12 million for supportive housing and $4 million for the Bernalillo County CARE campus, formerly known as the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services center, or MATS. The renovations to the CARE campus when complete will create an outpatient behavioral health clinic and living room space for peer-to-peer counseling sessions.
In November, 2019, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a resolution that permits “stakeholders, providers, community members, staff, commissioners, or other interested parties” to propose behavioral health service ideas through a website. Up until now, only county staff had been authorized to propose behavioral health service ideas. All program appropriations will require final approval of the County Commission. Under the new ordinance passed, each idea from stakeholders, providers, community members, staff and commissioners will go through a vetting process. A county commission appointed committee will ensure each proposal meets the criteria for an expenditure based on the behavioral health tax language approved by voters. A separate subcommittee of stakeholders and subject matter experts will also review the idea and recommend the next steps.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
New Mexico having the nation’s largest percentage increase in overall homelessness at 27% and with 57.6% increase in chronic homelessness can only be considered shocking. It is yet another tragic statistic for the state. New Mexico is once again at the very top of another very bad list which includes poverty, violent crime and drug addiction.
One of the cruelest things that former Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” did was when she ordered an “audit” of mental health services by nonprofits in New Mexico based on questionable information. The audit eventually devastated New Mexico’s behavioral health system. The process to rebuild the state’s behavioral health care services will be a slow process that no doubt will take years as will reducing homelessness.
According to some reports, approximately 80% of the cities chronic homeless are suffering from mental illness. The city does provide extensive services to the homeless that include social services, mental or behavioral health care services, substance abuse treatment and prevention, winter shelter housing, rent assistance and affordable housing development, just to mention a few.
It is extremely disappointing that Bernalillo County after enacting the behavioral health tax on February 17, 2015, and more than $90 million collected in taxes, very little progress has been made with implementing needed mental health care programs. What is difficult to comprehend is that after 4 years of collecting the tax, the County only now is trying to figure out how to spend all the taxes that have been collected.
After more than four years of collecting the tax and collecting $90 million in taxpayer funding, the County Commission needs to step up the process, be far more aggressive in identifying and implementing behavioral health programs so desperately needed after the decimation of the all the programs by the former Republican Governor.
The City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and the State of New Mexico have a moral obligation to assist the homeless, especially those who suffer from chronic mental illness. More needs to be done by the city, county and state to reduce the ever-increasing numbers of homeless. The only way all three are going to be able to reduce the number of homeless is to reach a viable consensus and implement an aggressive plan on how to reduce the number of homeless. This will mandate the city, county and the state to work with virtually all the charitable providers, “pooling of resources” and work to get arrive at an action plan.
A good start of pooling of resources will be for the 2020 New Mexico legislature and Bernalillo County to allocate sufficient funding to help the city build the 24-7 homeless shelter and to establish perhaps a county wide shelter.
POSTSCRIPT: CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE SERVICES TO THE HOMELESS
The Family and Community Service Division of the City of Albuquerque has an annual approved operating budget of $79.7 million. The city spends $8 million a year to provide 775 vouchers for rental assistance and to move homeless people from the street into housing. In the 2019-2020 approved city budget, an additional $2 million was added to the fund which allowed another 125 to 150 people to get into housing.
Highlights to the increases in social services provided by the Family and Community Service Division contained in the 2019-2020 approved budget include:
$15 million in affordable housing contracts.
$8.2 million in homeless services.
$5.7 million in mental health and substance abuse contracts.
$18.2 million for homeless and behavioral health programs. Prior to the enactment of the gross receipts tax increase, these programs were originally projected to be cut by $2 million.
$1 million and over in funding of early intervention and prevention programs, domestic violence shelters, domestic violence services, sexual assault services, services to abused and for neglected and abandoned youth.
The City of Albuquerque has at least 10 separate homeless service provider locations throughout the city. The entire general fund budget for the Department of Family and Community Services is approximately $41 million. The $41 million is not just exclusive funding for services to the homeless.
The service offered by the Family and Community Services Department are directly provided by the city or by contract with nonprofit providers. The services include social services, mental/behavioral health, homeless services, health care for the homeless, substance abuse treatment and prevention, multi-service centers, public housing, rent assistance, affordable housing development, and fair housing, just to mention a few.
The following homeless services are funded by the City of Albuquerque, HUD’s Continuum of Care grants, Emergency Shelter Grants, and other grants administered by the City of Albuquerque:
1. Emergency Shelters for short-term, immediate assistance for the homeless for men, women, families, emergency winter shelter and after-hours shelter. The city’s West Side Emergency Housing Center has up to 450 beds available. The shelter is now open year-round. The operating cost of the facility is $4.4 million a year.
2. Transitional Housing assistance designed to transition from homelessness to permanent housing.
3. Permanent Supportive Housing for homeless individuals dealing with chronic mental illness or substance abuse issues.
4. Childcare services for homeless families.
5. Employment Services and job placement for homeless persons.
6. Eviction Prevention or rental assistance and case management to prevent eviction and homelessness.
7. Health Care services for homeless individuals and families.
8. Meal program providing for homeless individuals and families in need.
9. Motel Vouchers or temporary vouchers for homeless individuals with immediate medical issues and families with children, where emergency shelters cannot accommodate them. The city spends $8 million a year to provide 775 vouchers for rental assistance and to move homeless people from the street into housing. In the 2019-2020 approved city budget, an additional $2 million was added to the fund which will allow another 125 to 150 people to get into housing.
10. The Albuquerque Heading Home program initiative which moves the most medically fragile and chronically homeless people off the streets and into permanent housing. Since its inception in 2011 to January, 2017, it has placed 650 people into housing that assists with housing and providing jobs.