Las Cruces, New Mexico has effectively ended homelessness among its veteran population.
One year ago, Las Cruces joined dozens of other cities that have officially committed to ending veterans’ homelessness by the end of the year. Prior to that, around 80 veterans had no permanent home in the city.
But when Mayor Ken Miyagishima (D) directed municipal resources towards providing housing for the city’s homeless population, earmarking tens of thousands of dollars for a local homeless nonprofit Community of Hope, the number of veterans living on the streets began to come down dramatically.
This week, the mayor announced that the city had achieved its goal of ending veterans’ homelessness.
Community of Hope director Nicole Martinez lauded the accomplishment. “We have identified all of the homeless veterans in Las Cruces,” she said. “We have a housing plan for each of them. Every single one of them is currently being sheltered.”
Ending veterans’ homelessness isn’t just about getting those who are currently on the streets into homes. It’s also about creating a framework to ensure that any veterans who end up on the streets in the future are quickly identified and given housing. Martinez said that her organization will be able to provide housing within 30 days to any veteran it comes in contact with in the future.
Las Cruces’ achievement is particularly remarkable given the levels of poverty in the state. Census data shows that New Mexico ranked 49th in its poverty rate, beat only by Mississippi. In 2013, more than one out of every five New Mexicans lived below the poverty line.
Homelessness has also been in the spotlight in New Mexico after police shot and killed James Boyd, a homeless Albuquerque resident who was camping in the mountains. Murder charges were eventually filed against two of the police officers involved after video of the killing surfaced. In addition, two teenagers were charged with murder after the brutal slayings of two homeless men last year. They admitted to more than 50 such random attacks against homeless people in the area.
Even though many people view homelessness as an intractable problem, a number of cities have ended veterans’ homelessness in the past 18 months. In addition to Las Cruces, cities as diverse as Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Houston, and New Orleans have now eliminated homelessness among veterans.
Getting homeless veterans into housing isn’t just important from a moral perspective; it also makes financial sense. Numerous studies have shown that it’s far more expensive to leave homeless people on the streets than it is to give them supportive housing. For instance, a study in central Florida found that residents pay $31,065 annually per chronically homeless person on the street. The annual bill for giving that same person a permanent place to live and supportive services like health care and job training: $10,051.