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Advocates present data to state lawmakers showing being unhoused is dangerous to health, safety

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Adrian Fallace via Flickr
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Investing in housing can keep people with extremely low incomes from committing or being victims of crime. That was the message Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless Chief Strategy Officer Rachel Biggs delivered to the legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee Monday.

The panel was called “Affordable Housing’s Connection to Crime,” but the discussion surrounded the lives of unhoused people and how to prevent people from losing their homes in the first place.

Biggs told legislators that research shows much higher rates of homicide, overdose, accidental death, and chronic health issues like heart disease or diabetes among unhoused people.

Biggs said that early signs of aging is among the outcomes from the stresses of living unhoused.

"If you’re experiencing homelessness your physical appearance might look like you’re 20 to 30 years older than you really are because of the severe impact of homelessness, living unsheltered, on your health outcomes," she said.  

Beyond the health disparities suffered by unhoused people lie higher rates of victimization and violence.

Data shows that unhoused people are 25 times more likely to be victims of violence, a 49% rate compared to 2% of housed people who experience violence in everyday life. Further, when funding is transferred to support housing instead of corrections the violent crime rate goes down.

Representative Gail Chasey said thinking of housing and its relation to community safety was an important framing that may create support for strengthening tenants’ rights in the upcoming legislative session.

Over the past several sessions, legislation that would create larger barriers to eviction and extend timelines for the eviction process has passed the state house but died in the senate.

Maria Griego from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty touted the Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program that went into effect earlier this year when the pandemic eviction moratorium expired, saying the state helped keep more than 45,000 families in their homes so far.

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This report is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

Kaveh Mowahed is a reporter with KUNM who follows government, public health and housing. Send story ideas to kaveh@kunm.org.
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