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Attorney lays out his homelessness plan for the city of Albuquerque

Last year, Albuquerque authorities closed an encampment in the city's Coronado Park
Gino Gutierrez
Source NM
Last year, Albuquerque authorities closed an encampment in the city's Coronado Park

Homelessness in New Mexico is on the rise and attorney and former state lawmaker Daymon Ely has a plan to address it in Albuquerque. His 60-page report laying out short and long-term goals has sparked plenty of debate in advocacy circles. KUNM’s Megan Kamerick talked with Ely on New Mexico in Focus, along with Jenny Metzler of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless and John Bulten of East Central Ministries.

DAYMON ELY: So the idea was to put together a plan that both the county and city could work on together, or at least the outlines of a plan with the understanding that we would have to have short, medium long-term goals, all working together. I think we're close to getting some kind of agreement. I haven't talked to the county yet. I've talked to individual commissioners, but city council and the mayor's office has been great about giving me access to staff. The community has been great in terms of talking to people and getting input. It's not perfect, and it's certainly not a Bible.

NMPBS: Jenny, I spoke with a man who was formally unhoused. He emphasized that it takes much more than presenting resources to people, because there's a lot of trauma and mistruts. among folks who've been on the street.How does your organization address that?

JENNY METZLER: Our basis and hallmark has been about not waiting for people to come find us. And really, our entire model is understanding the circumstances of homelessness. So since 1985, when we were one of the original demonstration projects, every service we have, every service we might add, in integrated health broadly defined, it can be taken out in the field. So everyone's trained in trauma-informed care and engagement, the entire organization -- administrators, billing people, frontline staff,

NMPBS: Does it take a lot of connections to finally get someone to say - I will take advantage of this?

METZLER: You know, it does but it's a range. Damon, you said this in your draft here, it is not a monolith. People who experience homelessness have an experience in common and they are as diverse as we can name it, and whatever their personal vulnerability that has allowed them to fall through the cracks of the holes in our structures that are failing them, we really need to be able to be responsive to that and understand some people will connect right away. You know, a couple days, we're good, they're on their way their back house, and some will be yours.

NMPBS: John, we hear a lot about barriers to services for people who are living unhoused. What are some of the biggest roadblocks that you see?

JOHN BULTEN: I mean, it's trust. People are vulnerable. And they're in situations that even when they do connect, there's still kind of levels of how to do that and where to go and all those things. So when organizations go meet people in the street, and take care of services, and connect there, but to set up appointments and all the rest, often, it's difficult to get people into appointments and then follow up because often it falls apart. A lot of times nonprofits, we have difficult time with connections and kind of continuum of care that passes people through a system. They have to go to an appointment here and then there and things fall apart in between and all the rest.

NMPBS: You think maybe Mayor Tim Keller's administration is doing enough to address some of these?

BULTEN: No, okay. It's difficult job. I totally understand. And I think we put too much emphasis on kind of the city solving something. But we also have to hold them accountable. And so there's so many large issues, but this one is integrated in all the other issues or is a systemic piece of all the other issues. And so we need more vision, more leadership, a city-wide approach to kind of bring the city together around in issues. So it's not, you know, we have one solution here, or we'll try this here, something else. But we have to really need leadership to help shape how the city can -- who we want to be as a city, and how we want to all of our neighbors to thrive.

NMPBS: Daymon, I see you nodding.

ELY: The whole homeless issue needs two things. It needs structure, which means a plan. So we need to figure out short--, medium-, long term goals. We also need money. It's not just a city or county problem. It's a state problem. Over 35% of the homeless population in Albuquerque is from outside of Bernalillo County but within the state, and we need the state to be real actors in it with money and that's why I'm hoping special session’s coming up. And my message very strongly is we need money.

The full show about homelessness airs Friday night on New Mexico in Focus on New Mexico PBS Channel 5 at 7 p.m.

Megan has been a journalist for 25 years and worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She first came to KUNM as a phone volunteer on the pledge drive in 2005. That led to volunteering on Women’s Focus, Weekend Edition and the Global Music Show. She was then hired as Morning Edition host in 2015, then the All Things Considered host in 2018. Megan was hired as News Director in 2021.
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