November is National Homeless Youth Awareness month. Millions of youth experience homelessness each year across the United States, but they often go unseen and their needs unmet. In New Mexico, we are working to change this situation.In August 2020, the City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, and University of New Mexico entered into an agreement to convene a Homeless Coordinating Council (HCC). The mission of the HCC was to combine knowledge and expertise to develop enduring and comprehensive solutions to homelessness. The Council agreed to develop and present to the community, within 60 days of the Council’s formation, a coordinated community-wide framework of services and housing that advance solutions to the challenge of homelessness. To do so, the HCC established five Committees. Each Committee was charged with identifying gaps/needs and high-impact strategies within its core focus areas: services, facilities, street outreach, affordable housing, and youth housing.
The Youth Housing Continuum (YHC) Committee identified several system-wide gaps and needs, one of them being the need to understand the true landscape and extent of youth homelessness in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. Young people often experience homelessness differently than the chronically homeless adult population and have historically been difficult to count, appearing invisible. In addition to the true number of youth experiencing homelessness being unknown, the YHC recognized that service provision after the age of 18 has a dramatic drop-off and many young people slip through the cracks.
In 2021, Dr. Cathleen Willging and her team at PIRE Southwest partnered with the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center of the University of California, San Diego, and the University of New Mexico Office of Community Health. They collaborated with a leadership team from the YHC that included key stakeholders and thought partners to help move the project forward. Through rigorous data collection, including interviews with key staff and leadership at community-based organizations, the PIRE team was able to produce a robust account of the true context of youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability and the needs and gaps of the system in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.
The outpouring of excitement from the Bernalillo County assessment motivated many elected officials to try and make a mark on youth homelessness in Albuquerque – including funding directed by New Mexico’s congressional delegation to support a new youth services center in Albuquerque for young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability. It also compelled the state – specifically the Children, Youth, and Families Department – to ride their curiosity into the Needs Assessment of Transition-Age Youth Experiencing Housing Instability and Homelessness (TAYH) in Southern and Eastern New Mexico, completed in fall 2023.
These assessments highlight the true needs of the youth in New Mexico and how the state can continue to support community-based organizations in doing their great work. PIRE Southwest is grateful for the opportunity to bring clarity and comprehension to the landscape of youth homelessness across New Mexico today. Now that we better understand the problem, we can take action to better support youth experiencing homelessness in our state.