[Hpn] Albuquerque, N.M -- A priceless solution tohomelessness - The Tribune of Albuquerque, N.M. - May 27, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Sat, 06 Jul 2002 00:51:03 -0500


OPINION: Kate Nelson - The Tribune of Albuquerque, N.M. -  May 27, 2002

Let's do some math, starting with an assumption:
You have a mental disorder that hinders your ability to work and wears out your
welcome with friends and family.
Your income? A monthly Social Security check, about $540.

Grab a calculator.

How much will you spend on food? On transportation? On rent for a room of your

Add it, subtract it, double-check the result.

Then sell the calculator.
**You won't need it at the homeless shelter.**

Most nights in Albuquerque, up to 3,000 people face at least the poverty part of
that equation. Some are children; most are adults. About 30 percent of the
adults also cope with a severe mental illness.

They bounce from a motel to a couch to a shelter to the street. Affordable
housing is scarce. Delays are long. More than 1,200 people are parked on the
city's waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers.

A solution seems hopeless. Build another shelter? Crack down on panhandlers?
Hope the homeless just go away?

Here's a better idea: Stand amid the construction bustle at 5901 Redlands Road
N.W., north of I-40 and Coors Boulevard. By year's end, the acre of dust will be
transformed into a Southwestern-style apartment complex with courtyards, a
gazebo and a community garden.

The skylights and patios of 17 one-bedroom units will embrace people who lack a
safe place to sleep, shower and gain the footing needed to become productive

They'll also get an on-site manager, support services from counselors and social
workers, subsidized rent and a meeting room for the entire neighborhood.

"We know if you give people affordable housing and appropriate services, they
can be successful living in the community," said Mark Allison, executive
director of the Albuquerque Mental Health Housing Coalition.

"We point our fingers and blame them for being homeless when they make $6,000 a
year," he said. "With the homeless thing, we wring our hands, but there is a

This particular solution has taken three years and $1.26 million. The coalition,
a nonprofit agency that works with other homeless and behavioral health groups,
began building the foundation in 1999.

Finding land, obtaining money and managing the city's regulatory maze consumed
the years.

The green light gleamed this year, when HUD awarded the project nearly half of
the money available in our five-state region.

Architect Rupal Engineer ensured that the buildings didn't look like a boring
box. Before designing the complex, she and other organizers held a workshop with
potential tenants.

"They asked for natural light, for outdoor space, for a garden," Engineer said.
"And they wanted color. So each unit is identified with its own color. These
people tend to be forgetful, and that will make it easier for them to identify

Tenants will be chosen with the help of Health Care for the Homeless, St.
Martin's Hospitality Center, Transitional Living Services, the University of New
Mexico's Mental Health Center and the Veterans Administration Hospital.

Together, they will succeed in reducing the homeless population ... by 17

Does it make enough difference to bother? Get out that calculator for some
social-cost equations.

What is our shared expense when people live in squalor? When they can't land
jobs? When they overload hospitals and jails?

"You can't have meaningful recovery without stable living environments," Allison

"We know from our other projects that people will start to take pride, will
become more active and more social. Having a home improves their mental health."

And no calculator can tally the price of that.

Copyright  2001 Nando Media
SOURCE PAGE  http://makeashorterlink.com/?Y11D21331

Homeless and Housing News