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NM Homeless Shelters Seeking Help During Coronavirus Pandemic

A lack of access to food, shelter and basic hygiene by those experiencing homelessness make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. (Leroy_Skalstad/Pixabay)
A lack of access to food, shelter and basic hygiene by those experiencing homelessness make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. (Leroy_Skalstad/Pixabay)
March 23, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M -- New Mexico's homeless advocates say local communities, with help from the state government, need to make arrangements to house those living on the streets during the current health crisis.

Even in normal times, those experiencing homelessness struggle to find bathrooms and a place to wash their hands. Now, with restaurants, coffee shops, libraries and other public places closed, a lack of proper hygiene makes them even more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Hank Hughes, executive director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, is asking the state and cities to make buildings or motel rooms available for homeless people who test positive to isolate and recover.

"I think homeless people right now are mostly pretty scared," he states. "Homeless shelters are not set up well for a pandemic. Usually everybody is sleeping in the same room or just a couple different rooms."

Hughes is discussing proposals to help the homeless with city officials in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces, the governor's office and the state health department.

He says the public could aid local homeless shelters by donating money, because typical donations of clothing and other articles cannot be accepted to prevent spread of the virus.

Hughes points out there's a been a surge in homelessness in New Mexico in recent years. He adds because volunteers 60 and older have been told to isolate, homeless shelters could use some help right now.

"It would be helpful for people who are young and healthy and have some extra time on their hands to volunteer for shelters," he states. "Our shelter system runs on volunteers and many of those regular volunteers are going to be people who are older or fall into the high risk category."

Hughes is working to set up online training for those who work at shelters and community food locations to screen people for COVID-19 symptoms adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Among the 3,200 people counted as homeless in New Mexico in 2019, two-thirds were individuals and about 800 were members of families with children.

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