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NM Begins Program to Combat Youth Homelessness

Unaccompanied youth who don't have a safe place to live are 10 to 30 times more likely to be victims of crime and become drug users, according to the National Network for Youth. (NM Coalition to End Homelessness)
Unaccompanied youth who don't have a safe place to live are 10 to 30 times more likely to be victims of crime and become drug users, according to the National Network for Youth. (NM Coalition to End Homelessness)
September 3, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. – An ambitious program to locate and house homeless young people in northern New Mexico starts this month with money from a federal grant.

The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness received more than $3 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to expand services in Santa Fe, Taos and other northern New Mexico communities.

Shelly Felt, executive director of Youth Shelters in Santa Fe, says the money will fund caseworkers to identify homeless youth age 24 or younger and provide at least 100 of them with rental housing.

"And these are unaccompanied homeless youth,” she points out. “They're living in their cars or in encampments. They're literally homeless, they're fleeing domestic violence. And it's also their dependent children."

New Mexico was one of 11 states to receive a 2018 Youth Homelessness Demonstration grant from HUD.

The agency says it hopes the grant will help develop a model for rural, often low-income parts of the country. If the program is successful, the funding could be renewed for future years.

Catherine Hummel, executive director of DreamTree Project in Taos, says the goal is to get youth into housing as quickly as possible, since early intervention can help them live independently for the long term.

"If a young person's life is destabilized and there's not immediate intervention, the chances of them going on to be homeless for much longer, and potentially for a lifetime, are much, much higher," she points out.

Alexandra Grajeda, a 22-year-old college student who was homeless at one point, now works with others her age to help them gain stability. She says it's both heartbreaking and inspirational.

"Basically, it just gave me a lot of hope, because they were coming up with a lot of new ideas and perspectives that I didn't have when I was living my experience,” Grajeda states. “And the youth are aware of their issue, and they're aware of why they're in that predicament, and really do want to do something about it."

The grant money allows agencies serving homeless people in northern New Mexico to work with an individual for at least two years, and in some cases three.

The New Mexico Legislature provided matching funds in order to receive the federal grant.

Disclosure: New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness contributes to our fund for reporting on Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault, Housing/Homelessness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM