A Bernalillo County program designed to mitigate Albuquerque homelessness was recently the subject of a study done by the University of New Mexico’s Institute for Social Research.

A report evaluating Community Connections Supporting Housing’s (CCSH) efficacy and progress since its creation in 2015 was released in June of this year.

In 2017, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH) counted 1,318 people in Albuquerque who reported experiencing homelessness on the night of Jan. 23. However, Albuquerque Public Schools estimates that at least 3,500 of its students are without a place to stay, and the City of Albuquerque puts the figure at more than 5,000 people on any given night.

The 20-page study begins with outlining the organizations contracted by Bernalillo County to provide case management to those receiving housing and other services through the initiative, which includes Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless (ABQHCH), Crossroads for Women and UNM Hospital Community Based Services.

Dr. Paul Guerin, director of the Center for Applied Research and Analysis at UNM, led the evaluation process of these and other providers by conducting interviews with 13 administrators and staff members. Client records from their time in the program were collected as well, including referrals, monthly reports on services received and lease lengths.

As demonstrated by the study, the process of gaining acceptance into the program itself is multi-tiered and not always the simplest of tasks, especially when considering the resident homeless population.

The three providers noted that a typically successful client is psychiatrically stable and abstinent from substance use. This precludes the vast majority of individuals experiencing homelessness in the county from receiving services through CCSH, as ABQHCH estimates that at least 80 percent of the local homeless population have mental health issues and/or addictions.

This is similar in design and function to a new proposal from the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance to build a campus in an industrial neighborhood south of Downtown that would house approximately 170 people. However, the CCSH initiative has helped 177 individuals from a total of 345 referrals get off the streets since its creation.

Additionally, Guerin and his colleagues note that missing data from client files resulted in an incomplete picture of the CCSH program. All files reviewed were solely hard copies, neither stored in a database nor using other electronic methods. Forms were consistently filled out incompletely — in some cases, they weren’t filled out at all, according to the UNM study.

General and open-ended questions on screening applications, such as “What is your history of substance use?” predictably led to a variety of vague or non quantifiable answers, which in turn produced unreliable data for the purposes of the study.

Per the UNM study, discharge records across the three providers were also inconsistent, leading to confusion over the source and reason for the action.

As such, the changes called for by the researchers are largely focused on the application process. Recommendations include simplifying the application itself while avoiding open-ended questions, as well as having CCSH staff on hand to assist any applicants needing help.

Modification of the eligibility criteria is also suggested, and the authors explicitly state that comprehensive, uniform documentation of client files would be more useful to both program staff and their clients. With the proposed changes, the report states that positive outcomes could include less stress on the criminal justice system, housing stability for participants and more engagement in the services offered.

Karl Johnson has been an Albuquerque resident and street musician since 2000 and can often be seen playing acoustic guitar and harmonica on campus. He has also been experiencing homelessness since being discharged from the UNM Hospital in December of 2017, he said.

“I’ve never heard of (Community Connections). I was approved for Section 8 housing when I was released, but that fell through due to circumstances out of my control — so here I am,” Johnson said.

When the Daily Lobo asked for his opinion on what the county could do to best help the homeless population in the immediate future, Johnson said, “I try to read the paper every day, and there was an article yesterday about a rapist that goes around and preys on homeless women. I’ve been assaulted 5 to 6 times this year. Police protection, even for the homeless, would be all right. Will the cops come if you call? In two hours, maybe. If there’s not gunshots, they ain’t coming.”

Andrew Gunn is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @agunnwrites.