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NM Homeless Shelters Face Cash Crunch As Pandemic Continues

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People experiencing homelessness may have histories of trauma, including sexual, psychological or physical abuse. (ArtTower/Pixabay)
People experiencing homelessness may have histories of trauma, including sexual, psychological or physical abuse. (ArtTower/Pixabay)
 By Roz Brown - Producer, Contact
January 6, 2021

SANTA FE, N.M. - As families cope with unemployment, pay cuts and the threat of eviction because of the coronavirus, state homeless agencies say communities could help by providing financial support.

Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said infection rates among the homeless population have been kept to a minimum because the federal CARES Act provided money for motel rooms. However, he said reduced funds will mean only a portion of those currently housed at motels will be able to stay there going forward.

"Also, as we know, people's unemployment checks got interrupted," he said. "We're just seeing a surge in homelessness and housing insecurity in general as people kind of struggle to make it through the winter."

Coronavirus vaccines will become more available in the next few months, but Hughes said people and families will continue to need help with food, clothing and money for the next 18 to 24 months.

Joe Jordan-Berenis, executive director of the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete's Place, said the shelter typically can house 123 people, but with capacity reduced by 25% due to COVID-19, only 35 people can stay there. He supports the "Housing First" model that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, and said many of the unhoused have thrived at motels.

"If I have to bring them back into the shelter, emotionally it's going to be really, really difficult for them and I know it," he said, "and my concern is that, boy, would I like to move them into housing."

Jordan-Berenis said the Interfaith shelter currently has enough money to keep 70 homeless individuals in motel rooms until April 1. At the same time, he said keeping the shelter operating presents its own problems.

"It certainly has been challenging," he said. "I have staff who are out who've been exposed, I have volunteers who are out who've been exposed. We typically have approximately 2,000 active volunteers. Most of them disappeared, and I get it. I understand that because they're older or they have someone at home who's vulnerable."

A recent report on housing in Santa Fe estimated the city suffers from a rental shortage of more than 7,000 units.

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.
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