The Otero County Hunger Coalition (OHC) of southern New Mexico hosted an inaugural Summit on Hunger and Homelessness on November 6. Advocates and service providers from across Otero County gathered in Alamogordo, NM to develop collaborative efforts to address hunger and homelessness more effectively.
“Prior to the summit we found a lot of organizations and individuals involved in many creative and helpful activities helping the hungry and the homeless, but often they were operating without the knowledge of what others were doing,” says Dr. Bruce Martin, OHC board member and summit organizer.
Among the greatest challenges facing advocates in Otero County is the fact that “Otero is sparsely populated and Alamogordo is a small city with limited services,” says summit keynote speaker Hank Hughes of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, an NLIHC state partner. Service providers are spread out across Otero, and many of the summit participants had not met one another prior to the gathering.
In addition to geographic dispersion, summit participants lamented the lack of resources for their efforts. Lynette Wedig of OHC described her organization’s lack of a dedicated space for offering community services. When OHC hosts its free community meal each weekday, it relies on donated space from churches and community centers in the county and must rotate to a different venue each day. With limited financial resources, the organization can offer just five community meals per week, far short of the need. Martin hopes that new collaborations among service providers will lead to an expanded availability of free community meals.
According to Dr. Martin, one-third of Otero County children live in poverty, and many families “double-up” in homes, placing many on the brink of homelessness. For these most vulnerable families of extremely low income, Hughes says that stable “housing is, like everywhere else, out of reach.”
According to Michelle McKinstry of the United Way of Otero County and a former OHC Board member, there is a dire shortage of permanent overnight shelters for homeless individuals in the county. The best that service providers can currently offer to those lacking shelter is to cover the cost of an overnight stay in a local motel, taxing the providers’ budgets.
Hughes stated that service providers connected with one another at the summit and in some cases found collaborative solutions to address urgent shelter needs. “The Mesilla Valley Community of Hope from neighboring Las Cruces was at the summit and offered to work with the Otero Hunger Coalition on opening a branch office of their organization in Alamogordo to provide rapid rehousing,” he cited as one example.
Alamogordo Mayor Susie Galea was present at the summit and supportive of the work being discussed. Participants commended her interest in addressing hunger and homelessness more effectively. Hughes says that several State Legislators from the county have also expressed interest in new solutions to addressing hunger and homelessness, giving advocates hope for future legislative support.
Dr. Martin said he hopes that the summit will become an annual event and that this year’s summit will serve as just the beginning of continued collaboration and collective work among organizations across the county. McKinstry looks forward to advocates being able to “move their mission forward faster because of these new relationships.”
For more information on the Otero Hunger Coalition, visit: http://oterohunger.org.