Northern New Mexico looks to combat homeless youth

SANTA FE, N.M. — Family and economic problems combined with residential instability are often the cause of homelessness among youths.

But in northern New Mexico, money for rapid rehousing is helping homeless providers get unhoused young people off the streets.

In 2020, New Mexico was one of only 11 states to receive a grant for programs aimed at youth homelessness.

Hank Hughes, executive director for the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said many unhoused youths leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect.

“We started this program, the youth homelessness demonstration program in northern New Mexico,” Hughes explained. “And now that it’s been up and running for a little over a year, we’ve housed over 100 youths from all over the northern part of New Mexico.”

The $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which assists those between the ages of 18 and 24, has been renewed for 2021.

Shelly Felt, executive director for Youth Shelters and Family Services, oversees the program. She felt fortunate to have received the grant before the pandemic hit.

“Because we were able to move a lot of young people out of emergency shelter, which was dangerous, you know as far as congregate care is concerned with COVID-19 transmission, we were able to move a lot of them into their own apartments,” Felt recounted.

Felt added providers in northern New Mexico currently are finding housing for nine to 10 households each month, and expect to have between 150 and 200 homeless youths housed by year’s end.

“If you provide intervention early in a young person’s life, they can escape homelessness altogether,” Felt asserted. “So it is a way to get to more of the root of the problem.”

In the past few decades, experts have advocated for permanent housing to break the cycle of generational homelessness instead of the emergency services traditionally offered by local communities.

News Reporter