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NM's Increase in Homelessness: Aberration or Trend?

New Mexico is one of 20 states that has seen an increase in its homeless population in 2017. (
New Mexico is one of 20 states that has seen an increase in its homeless population in 2017. (
December 26, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Groups in New Mexico that advocate for people who are homeless hope the state's increase in homelessness this year is a one-time anomaly - but they worry it might be part of a trend that has already overtaken the West Coast states.

A federal report from HUD said while the homeless population decreased in 30 states in 2017, New Mexico had a 9.7 percent increase, compared to 2016. Hank Hughes, executive director at the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said he'd like to believe the increase is a one-year aberration.

"I'm afraid that that may not be the case, because of what we're seeing on the West Coast, where homelessness is skyrocketing in California, and in Washington state,” Hughes said. "And so, the other possibility is that we're starting to see some spillover from that trend."

As part of the 2017 National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day last Thursday, thousands gathered in cities across the nation to honor those who died on the streets this year, including 27 in Santa Fe, and 52 in Albuquerque. The recent spike in homelessness is attributed in part to an affordable housing shortage in cities like Santa Fe, as well as the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Hughes said New Mexico's increase could also be due to more communities participating in the state's annual "Point-in-Time" homeless count held each January. But he said with rents rising faster than incomes, it could be that those who can't find housing in even pricier states like California are making their way here - only to find another housing shortage.

"We have a really entrenched problem of not enough investment in affordable housing,” she said. "And that's been true, you know, since the 1980s, when under the Reagan administration, federal subsidies for housing were cut drastically. We've never recovered."

The annual count showed more than 1,500 homeless people in New Mexico, about half were families with children. And nearly 16 percent of all military veterans in New Mexico are living on the streets.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM