Northern New Mexico gets $3.37 million federal housing grant

by Sammi Edge
from the Santa Fe New Mexican

A group of Northern New Mexico agencies will get $3.37 million in federal funds to seek ways of dealing with homelessness among young people, a sum that local service providers said could help them make a significant in a persistent problem.

Catherine Hummel, executive director of the DreamTree Project in Taos, said a 2015 survey found that 6.5 percent of high school students in Northern New Mexico reported they didn’t have stable housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Friday it is providing the money through a program that funds innovative approaches to combating youth homelessness with the hope of finding solutions that can be implemented nationwide.

Northern New Mexico is one of 11 geographical areas selected, and the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, which applied in tandem with other agencies in the region, is one of only five groups funded that is working on solutions specifically in rural areas.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Shelly Felt, executive director of Youth Shelters & Family Services in Santa Fe, one of the lead agencies.

Over the next four months the coalition, the DreamTree Project, Youth Shelters & Family Services, the city of Santa Fe and other entities will develop a plan for 14 Northern New Mexico counties, from San Juan to Quay.

Hummel said the targeted area is roughly fourteen times the size of Rhode Island and bigger than the country of Denmark, yet it has only three primary youth homelessness providers: DreamTree, Youth Shelters in Santa Fe, and Childhaven in Farmington.

Said Felt, “I think we can change Northern New Mexico for the next 100 years. We have the chance to put systems in place, and a lot of times what’s really been blocking them is the money.”

Beth Van Duyne, regional administrator for HUD, said the coalition’s application stood out because of the experience of the agencies that applied and their willingness to work together to create solutions.

“The New Mexico communities involved here have all demonstrated a commitment to underserved populations and children and dedicated their efforts to ending youth homelessness,” Van Duyne said at a news conference.

Accessing services can be a particular problem in rural areas, Hummel pointed out. She told the story of a young man who three years ago walked up the Rio Grande Valley from Española to Taos to get to DreamTree’s emergency shelter.

She said DreamTree worked with Española groups to set up a system where teens who need the service could get transportation. This grant, Hummel said, opens the doors for other collaborative projects across the region.

“We need the network of sites, and transportation and partners so that young people don’t have to surmount those kinds of barriers just to access basic services and basic housing,” Hummel said.

Felt sees opportunities to do things like start small-scale rapid housing projects that could help get youth experiencing homelessness into apartments right away.

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