Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R) in partnership with the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH), an NLIHC state partner, and other organizations recently launched the Albuquerque Heading Home Initiative, a comprehensive, strategic and sustainable housing first approach to addressing chronic homelessness in the city. Advocates hope the initiative will reduce homelessness in Albuquerque by 40% over the next five years and reduce fiscal costs of emergency services utilized by the city’s homeless population, which is estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 people.
Albuquerque Heading Home is an implementation of A Community Response to Homelessness, a 5-year plan to reduce and prevent homelessness in the city, developed under the leadership of NMCEH in 2007. NMCEH began working with newly elected Mayor Berry and his administration in 2010 to implement the plan, resulting in the new initiative.
The first phase of Albuquerque Heading Home began with Survey Week, in which trained volunteers canvassed areas of the city with the highest concentrations of homelessness. Survey Week was coordinated by Metropolitan Homelessness Project in conjunction with Common Ground’s 100,000 homes campaign, a national effort to house 100,000 homeless Americans by July 2013. From January 31 to February 4, volunteers, including Mayor Berry, surveyed people in the early morning hours by administering the Vulnerability Index, a measure used to identify the risk of mortality that includes questions about physical and mental health, history of substance abuse, and economic status. The survey will be used to identify 75 people experiencing chronic homelessness who will be placed directly into housing as soon as possible. Like other housing first programs, Albuquerque Heading Home is based on the belief that those experiencing homelessness respond better to supportive services when they are first placed in permanent housing.
The objective of the initiative is to demonstrate that permanent supportive housing using the housing first model is smart, effective, and will save money. A local news article reported that public resources consumed by homeless people cost taxpayers more than $644,000 last year. The initial 75 program participants will be housed using existing resources, including Veteran’s Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers, Continuum of Care housing, and the city-funded housing first program. The approximate annual cost of providing this housing is $515,000, but the initiative is projected to save money over time.
To determine the cost-savings of providing permanent supportive housing, the city of Albuquerque is funding a cost-effectiveness study of the Albuquerque Housing First program. The study will be administered by the Supportive Housing Coalition of NM, an NLIHC state partner.
“We know that we can reduce homelessness in Albuquerque if we have a bold, coordinated and comprehensive approach that involves all sectors of the community, including our mayor, private funders, hospitals, businesses and service providers,” said Lisa Huval, policy & advocacy director for the NMCEH. “Albuquerque Heading Home does that, and we believe that it will help us secure new resources and reinvest existing resources in solutions to homelessness.”
Other U.S. cities with a similar approach to chronic homelessness have experienced significant results. For example, Portland, ME and Seattle, WA have seen significant decreases in homelessness-related emergency room costs at 62% and 74% respectively; and each city has seen decreases in jail visits by homeless people. Advocates in Albuquerque expect to achieve similar results.
Advocates and the Berry administration are currently working to move the 75 most vulnerable people identified during Survey Week into supportive housing. Seven people are in the process of being housed with VASH vouchers. Housing providers, including the Supportive Housing Coalition, have committed housing units to this effort.