On September 30, the first debate between Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and TV Weatherman personality Republican Mark Ronchetti was held and sponsored by Channel 4. Dominating the debate were heated exchanges and disputes on such issues as abortion, crime, the criminal justice system, the economy and public education. Notwithstanding, both the Governor and Ronchetti found common ground on the issue of homelessness. Both said they would crack down on certain activities while expanding services to those willing to utilize them.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM’S POSITION ON THE HOMELESS
Governor Lujan Grisham for her part said she would push for legislation to restrict panhandling and criminal trespassing in the upcoming 2023 legislative session. She said her administration is working to address the affordable housing shortage in the state. She said plans are underway to build 6,000 new houses around New Mexico. She also said he state was working to expand substance abuse treatment programs in the state but pointed out some homeless reject treatment options. Lujan Grisham had this to say about those homeless who refuse treatment options:
“We’re going to need to do a little tough love and that’s going to mean probably more options for mandatory treatment. … I plan to propose in the next legislative session restrictions on panhandling and trespass for this population.”
Lujan Grisham said during the debate that more than half of New Mexico’s homeless population are teenagers.
Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the governor’s plan is a comprehensive approach to homelessness and said:
“These proposals will seek to build on the work the governor has done to invest in housing and improve and increase access to behavioral health services throughout New Mexico.”
MARK RONCHETTI’S POSTION ON HOMELESS
Republican Mark Ronchetti for his part said treatment programs need to be expanded, but insisted bigger steps are also needed. Ronchetti spokesman Ryan Sabel after the debate said Ronchetti supports a robust homeless shelter system and service delivery centers to provide medical care, substance abuse treatment and other services. Sabel said this:
“Ronchetti believes we can be compassionate and protect our communities from the proliferation of homeless camps that give other cities/states a bad reputation, hurt economic development and make neighborhoods less safe.”
During the debate, Ronchetti called for a ban on “tent cities.” City sanctioned “Safe Outdoor Spaces” for homeless tent encampments has become a hotly disputed topic in the City of Albuquerque. He said Albuquerque was following down the same path as other western cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Ronchetti had this to say:
“New Mexico cannot be allowed to be someone’s campground, and we’ve seen it here in the Albuquerque area.”
Th link to quoted news source material is here:
POLL AND CITIZEN’S SATIFACTION SURVEY ON HOMELESSNESS AS MAJOR ISSUES
On August 31 the Albuquerque Journal reported the results of a poll on the various issues voters felt were serious issues facing the state. In the poll, respondents were read a list of five issues facing New Mexico and asked to state if they felt each one was a “very serious problem, somewhat serious problem, minor problem, or no problem at all.” The specific issues asked about in the poll were Crime, Homelessness, Quality of Education, the Strength of the State’s Economy, and Covid 19. According to the poll, Homelessness was rated as follows:
Very Serious: 77%, Somewhat Serious: 16%, Minor: 4%, No Problem: 1% Don’t Know/Would Not Say: 2%
Each year, the City of Albuquerque commissions a Citizen Perception Survey to assess residents’ satisfaction with various City services and issues relating to crime, homelessness, and public safety. In early August, the City released Citizen Perception Survey.
The issue of homelessness was found to be a major challenge in Albuquerque.
70% feel the City is doing a poor job of addressing homelessness, 9% of residents gave the City Government positive marks for addressing the homelessness issue and 20% gave a mixed or neutral rating.
The percentage of residents who give the City positive scores for addressing homelessness had risen from 13% in 2019 to 29% in 2020 but it fell by 20% and is 9% currently.
“POINT IN TIME” SURVEY
Each year the “Point in Time” 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. The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH) is contracted by the city to do the survey. NMCEH released the 2022 PIT report breaking down the demographics of the homeless population in Albuquerque.
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.
The PIT count requires the use of the HUD definition of “homelessness”. PIT 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 a “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.
The Housing Inventory Count (HIC) is an inventory of provider programs within a Continuum of Care that provide total numbers of beds and units dedicated to serving people experiencing homelessness. There are 5 homeless Program Types:
Permanent Supportive Housing
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:
NEW MEXICO’S HOMELESS NUMBERS
January 31, 2022 was the date selected to conduct the 2022 Point in Time Survey which was released in August. The 2022 Point In Time Report provides what it referred to “balance of the state” statistics where the Albuquerque 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
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
The total estimated number of people counted during the Balance of State Point-in-Time counts from 2009 – 2022 are as follows:
Page 18, Point in Time Survey
The data for the “UNSHELTERED” is broken-down as follows:
Total Unsheltered Chronically Homeless : 14%
First Time Homeless: 23%
Homeless due to domestic violence: 10%
Adults with serious mental illness: 43%
Adults with substance use disorder: 40%
Page 18, Point in Time Survey
GENDER OF UNSHELETER
Page 19, Point in Time Survey
AGE OF UNSHELTERED
Under Age of 18: 1%
18 to 24: 10%
24+ : 1%
Page 20, Point in Time Survey
ETHNICITY OF UNSHELTERED
Native American: 28%
African American: 5%
Mix Races: 4%
Page 21, Point in Time Survey
The 2022 PIT report did provide a separate breakdown of Albuquerque’s homelessness separate from that of the state numbers. On January 31, 2022 Albuquerque’s homelessness is reported as follows:
Albuquerque Emergency sheltered: 940 (New Mexico Emergency Sheltered: 785)
Albuquerque Unsheltered: 197 (New Mexico Unsheltered: 366)
Albuquerque Transitional housing: 174 (New Mexico Transitional Housing: 107)
COMBINED TOTAL OF CITY HOMELESS: 1,311
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
What Governor Lujan Grisham said in the debate about the homeless who refuse treatment merits repeating:
“We’re going to need to do a little tough love and that’s going to mean probably more options for mandatory treatment.”
What the Governor is referring to are laws that deal with when and under what circumstances formal civil commitment hearings can be initiated for 3-day, 5-day and 30-day observation and diagnostic evaluations for the mentally ill and the drug addicted. Such processes and procedures can be utilized to deal with the homeless and to ensure that they get the medical treatment and counselling services they need.
The link to review the applicable New Mexico state statutes NM Statute §43-1-1 (2019), NM Stat § 43-1-1 (2019), NM Stat § 43-1-11 (2020) on civil mental health commitments is here:
CREATE “HOMELESS COURT” WITH CIVIL COMMITMENTS
District Attorney across the state can and should dedicate resources in the form of attorneys that will assume the filing of civil mental health commitment pleadings for such hearings as prescribed by law. The New Mexico Public Defender should also be called upon by the Courts to provide a defense where and when it is needed. The New Mexico legislature should fully fund such an initiative
A greater emphasis must be made to get those homeless who are not in the criminal justice system the medical care and assistance they need without criminal prosecution and warehousing in the county jail. A civil mental health commitment court for the homeless to deal with the mentally ill and the drug addicted who pose a threat to themselves, their family and the general public must be established.
In Albuquerque, one single specialty court designated as the “Outreach, Veterans and Homeless Court” or “OVH Court” should be created. A program of cross deputization of City Attorney’s by the Bernalillo County District Attorney to allow them to file civil mental health commitment petitions in State District Court in misdemeanor and felony cases can be created.
The Criminal Division of the State District Court should assign a District Court Judge to deal exclusively with mental health commitment hearings with the help of Metro Judges and the consolidation and the assistance of “Metro Court Outreach Court” and the “Metro Community Veterans” court under one court that is established in both Metro Court and State District Court using both court’s resources including courtrooms.
APD is ostensibly doing its job with resources it has when it comes to the homeless. Since the beginning of 2022 there have been issued 2,308 citations to the homeless and it has issued 614 trespassing notices with 3 trespassing stops revealing outstanding warrants. However, much more can be done with the coordination of resources and placing an emphasis on dealing with the mentally ill and the drug addicted. The Metro Court should establish an identical court procedure that it has with the Metro Traffic Arraignment Program that when the officer issues a citation to the homeless person, a Notice and date and time of hearing is also provided in the citation itself.
Both the City Attorney and the Bernalillo County District Attorney could dedicate resources in the form of attorneys that will assume the filing of civil mental health commitment hearings as allowed by law. A program of cross deputization of City Attorney’s by the Bernalillo County District Attorney to allow them to file civil mental health commitment petitions in State District Court in misdemeanor and felony cases needs to be created. The New Mexico Public Defender must be called upon by the Courts to provide a defense where and when needed.