A special Albuquerque Native American Homeless Task Force presented 14 recommendations to improve housing solutions for Native Americans to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry on August 18. According to the annual Point-in-Time count, managed by the New Mexico Coalition to the End Homelessness, an NLIHC state coalition partner, Native Americans represented 19% of Albuquerque’s homeless population, but comprise 4% of the general population. Mayor Berry created the Task Force in 2014 to address homelessness among the city’s Indigenous peoples in response to the deaths of homeless Indigenous men.
Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, two men who were killed, were sleeping outside in a vacant lot when three teenage men attacked them with bricks and pipes. Many considered the killings to be a hate crime. Also in 2014, two officers of the Albuquerque Police Department were charged with the murder of another homeless man, James Boyd. At the time of his killing, Boyd, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse with a history of mental illness, had been sleeping in the hills near a private residence after the shelter where he lived shut down. A 2014 National Coalition for the Homeless report found that 49% of homeless individuals experience violence.
The Task Force’s recommendations call for the appointment of a Tribal Liaison to coordinate services and programs between the city and tribal leadership, and to lead cultural competency trainings for all in the city who serve the Indigenous homeless population. The recommendations urge increased funding at the local, state and federal levels for current programs and services, as well as the creation of new programs specifically targeted to Indigenous people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The Task Force call for public housing expansion in Albuquerque, research partnerships with local higher education institutions to further study the causes of Indigenous homelessness, and public-private-tribal partnerships to optimize current funding.
The Task Force asks the City of Albuquerque to support the inclusion of homeless people as a protected class in the New Mexico Hate Crimes Act. A measure to do so was first introduced in the State Legislature by State Senator Bill O’Neill in 2013, but the bill has stalled since. New Mexico would join seven other states – Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington – plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia that include homelessness in statewide hate crimes protection.
Members of the task force included representatives of the City of Albuquerque and of Indigenous Pueblos, Tribes, and Nations from across the Albuquerque area, including the Navajo Nation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Pueblo of Laguna, the Pueblo of Zia, the Bernalillo Off-Reservation Native American Health Commission, and the New Mexico Behavioral Health Collaborative.
Navajo activist Sherrick Roanhorse, who chaired the task force, stated: “Addressing homelessness is an ongoing challenge that will require ongoing collaboration and partnerships between the city, tribes, non-profit partners, and private sector.”
To read the National Coalition for the Homeless report, go to http://nationalhomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Hate-Crimes-2013-1.pdf
For more information on the Albuquerque Native American Homeless Task Force and its recommendations, contact Dawn Begay, Albuquerque Tribal Liaison, at [email protected]