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Santa Fe Homeless Shelters Cooperate to Fight COVID-19

New Mexico's governor has announced that business restrictions and the state's face-covering mandate will remain in place at least through August. (Alexandra_Koch/Pixabay)
New Mexico's governor has announced that business restrictions and the state's face-covering mandate will remain in place at least through August. (Alexandra_Koch/Pixabay)
August 3, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. - The novel coronavirus pandemic has shown no let-up, but service providers who work with Santa Fe's homeless population are reporting effective outcomes, even as they worry about future funding and the approach of winter.

Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said Santa Fe shelters have coordinated to implement strict safety measures and social-distancing rules. He said the city also approved funds to secure motel rooms for some people who are chronically homeless.

"The ones who are in the motels, their life has improved greatly," said Hughes. "Not just because they're safe from the pandemic, but also, they have a place to keep clean and start working on other parts of their life."

Santa Fe has followed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to move homeless encampments during the pandemic. But nearby cities, such as Albuquerque and Denver, continue to conduct "sweeps" of homeless camps to discourage them, often with limited or no notice.

Many service providers feared that closing libraries and other public places frequented by those who are homeless could lead to a breakdown in well-established connections. But Lara Yoder, housing program manager for Santa Fe's Life Link, said in some cases, the opposite has occurred.

"We've been able to identify and get names of people who are homeless that we didn't have before," said Yoder. "They're getting services. People are doing more outreach to them, because they're actually somewhere."

According to Joe Jordan-Berenis, executive director of the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete's Place, the pandemic caused many long-term volunteers to step aside because they're at high-risk for the virus.

At the same time, he said most of the chronically homeless served by the shelter are between the ages of 50 and 75.

"We had to sort-of pivot on a dime and restructure the day services, restructure the night services," said Jordan-Berenis. "And I want to say that the guests, they have been amazingly compliant. And it's very difficult for them to adjust to change. And they have."

Typically 300 to 400 unhoused people are in Santa Fe at any time - but there may soon be more, as tens of thousands of renters face eviction due to COVID-19 job loss.

Chronic homelessness is estimated to cost New Mexico taxpayers about $35,000 per person, per year.

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/Dan Heyman, Public News Service - NM