Kim Baca
Many Natives would rather take their chances on the streets of Albuquerque instead of going to a shelter due to distrust.

Task Force to Improve Quality of Life for ABQ’s Native Homeless

Kim Baca
10/10/14

A new 17-member task force has been charged with identifying resources and improving the quality of life for Native Americans in Albuquerque. The task force is the result of city officials and the Navajo Nation coming together to aid the area’s Native American homeless population.

“Resources are stretched between the city, the state and the tribes. Our whole hope is to collaborate and find ways to connect Native Americans within Albuquerque to have access to resources,” said Sherrick Roanhorse, Albuquerque Native American Homeless Task Force chairman and the Navajo Nation’s committee appointee.

The task force, made up of representatives from the mayor’s office, the city’s Family and Community, Human Rights and Police departments, and the Navajo Nation’s Division of Health, Workforce Development, Human Rights Commission and the leadership offices, also plans to assess the need for additional resources. The group also plans to develop a funding request to state and possibly congressional lawmakers for additional support services by November. Roanhorse said the task force is also looking for representation from the two Apache tribes in New Mexico, as well as the nearby Pueblos of Isleta, Laguna and Sandia.

Mayor Richard Berry and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly created the task force after the fatal beating of two Navajo homeless men in July. A grand jury has indicted the three teens involved in the incident on first-degree murder charges.

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The brutal attack has gotten the attention of the Navajo Human Rights Commission, which is conducting its own investigation. The commission discovered large concentrations of Navajo on the streets, some initially coming to the city to find jobs or obtain training opportunities. When they became homeless, they weren’t going to shelters or accessing aid programs.

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“When you come into the shelters, you see there are Bible studies and other things that they aren’t accustomed to. They are not going to embrace that,” said Lauren Benally, commission policy analyst. “We are also going to try to determine what kinds of services they like.”

Benally said many Navajos would prefer to go to the Albuquerque Indian Center, which has lost its funding in the city’s competitive grant process and had to make program cuts. Indian Center employees go without pay sometimes until state funding kicks in on its grant cycle.

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The urban Indian health nonprofit, First Nations Community HealthSource, was awarded the city grant and provides substance abuse counseling, as well as other support services, including case management for the city’s answer to homeless, Albuquerque Heading Home. The program was created in 2011 to address chronic homelessness, providing housing to those who have been on the streets for more than a year or had four episodes of homelessness in a year, and were likely to end up in jail or the emergency room.

From 2011 to 2014 of those serviced by Heading Home, 33 out of 328 housed were Native American, according to a city report.

Jodie Jepson, deputy program director, said cultural preferences and addictions have been barriers in getting Native Americans housed. Some Native people would prefer to go back to the reservation, although some who return home end up back on the streets. The program also doesn’t require detoxification or substance abuse counseling for those who have an alcohol addiction.

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