This week, USICH Director Jeff Olivet traveled to New Mexico, where preliminary 2023 data shows a 48% increase in homelessness compared to the same time in 2022. The state’s rise in homelessness coincides with a 50% decline in the number of affordable homes in New Mexico since 2020 and a 70% rise in rents amid wages that have increased only 15% since 2017.
Amid this life-and-death crisis, Olivet and USICH Senior Regional Advisor Tamara Wright held meetings with many state and local leaders, including Amy Whitfield, the governor’s housing and homelessness advisor; Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller; Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber; the Housing Leadership Group, which brings together multiple state agencies, providers, advocates, and developers. With all parties, Olivet and Wright discussed the federal, state, and local challenges, resources, and solutions to homelessness and how the federal government can help New Mexico get more people off the streets, out of shelters, and into housing while preventing others from experiencing homelessness in the first place, with a particular focus on tribal sovereign nations and the governor’s executive order regarding tribal housing, rural development, and racial equity.
USICH also met with Albuquerque’s recently formed Community Safety Department, an innovative effort to handle 911 calls from people experiencing homelessness, thereby shifting homelessness response away from law enforcement and to public health experts.
“The trends we are seeing in New Mexico mirror the rest of the country: Our nation’s lack of affordable housing, high rents, and relatively low wages are creating a homelessness crisis,” said USICH Director Olivet. “But I commend the work of the state and communities in New Mexico. They are not only investing in housing and services that help people stay housed, but they also understand the need to invest in rental aid, mental health and substance use treatment, and other programs that are proven to keep people from losing their homes in the first place.”
While in the state, USICH visited several shelters, including Consuelo’s Place, a previously vacant college dorm converted into a shelter for people who had no home for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now a permanent shelter. Olivet and Wright also visited First Nations Community HealthSource, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Albuquerque that serves people who belong to one of the 23 Indian tribes in the state.
The Biden-Harris administration is committed to working with communities to address the homelessness crisis. All In The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness sets a national goal to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025 and encourages state and local governments to set ambitious goals. Last year, USICH, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs partnered with more than 100 communities to help more than 100,000 people move off the streets, out of shelters, and into homes where they can recover from the trauma of homelessness and rebuild their lives. This year, the White House and USICH launched ALL INside, a first-of-its-kind initiative to embed federal teams in six communities to reduce unsheltered homelessness.