At the Interfaith Community Shelter, we have long supported what is known as a “housing first” model (which couples housing with intensive case management services) as crucial to sustainably housing individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
That said, simply throwing money at the problem (“Ending homeless ‘isn’t a pipe dream,’ advocates say,” Jan. 17) for homeless housing vouchers is not the magic bullet it might appear to be, even if the sums available can somehow rise from the $4 million in the governor’s budget to the $212 million cited in the article.
Vouchers for people experiencing homelessness will work only if there is an ample stock of affordable housing for all, especially our city’s workforce and the native Santa Feans who can no longer afford to live here.
We only have to look as far as San Francisco and Los Angeles to understand that prosperity, ironically, breeds homelessness, as real estate values and rental prices rise faster than the wages and salaries of the workforce. Without an ample housing supply, it will be difficult for chronically homeless individuals with special needs to find property owners willing to accept a voucher.
Second, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that one of the most important elements in helping a person overcome a traumatic event, and change the direction of their life, is the presence of another supportive adult.
Chronic homelessness is fraught with and most often preceded by a host of traumatic events. For a formerly homeless person to remain housed, intensive case management is a necessary support. Case managers and the agencies involved need to understand the importance of their role in another human being’s life and be available to their clients, as needed, sometimes on a daily basis.
Finally, no effort to house those who are homeless will succeed without a strong and effective mental health system. The mental health infrastructure in New Mexico is sorely lacking, to the point that it often seems nearly impossible for the shelter and the families and friends of our guests to get them the help they desperately need.
Without a nimble and responsive mental health system in place, homelessness in New Mexico is likely to continue, regardless how much money we throw at housing vouchers.