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Organizations work to assist unhoused community in Las Cruces

Desert Hope, an affordable housing project in Las Cruces.
Noah Raess
Desert Hope apartments, an affordable housing project in Las Cruces.

The number of unhoused individuals living in New Mexico has been steadily rising for many years and as of January of 2020, more than 3,300 people are unhoused in New Mexico. With this issue affecting Las Cruces, many organizations work together to help bring this number down.

Mesilla Valley Community of Hope Executive Director Nicole Martinez runs one of the largest organizations designed to help the unhoused community in Las Cruces. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, Community of Hope provided services to 3,263 people ranging from 18 to 87 years of age.

“Community of Hope is an organization that serves people that are unhoused or are precariously housed with a variety of services that range anywhere from day shelter services such as showers, mail, laundry to intensive case management supportive services,” Martinez said.

Mesilla Valley Community of Hope has been involved with housing projects and services in the city to help provide help to those who are in need.

“We own a few homes around Las Cruces. We also partner with the housing authority on a 22-unit complex that only houses formerly homeless veterans. We also recently in the last year opened up Dessert Hope apartments which is a 40-unit apartment complex for people who have been chronically homeless,” Martinez said.

Desert Hope is a partnership between The City of Las Cruces, The Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority and Community of Hope that aims to provide affordable housing for unhoused residents by making rent dependent on the tenant's income.

Assisting the Unhoused Community in Las Cruces

The Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority Executive Director Juan Olvera explained that the housing authority is responsible for the property and Community of Hope operates different assistance programs. Olvera said that unhoused community is a difficult population to serve.

“It’s going to take time for those individuals to kind of say ‘Ok I’m here, this is my home, I value this’ and then Mesilla Valley Community of Hope that provides the services they’re helping them transition into that life even helping them to find a job,” Olvera said.

However, this program is not without controversy. Recent complaints of higher crime, drug abuse and foot traffic in the area have shone an unfavorable light on the apartments.

“Yeah there have been complaints, yeah there are good apples and there are bad apples. There were some residents there that were creating some problems, we started evictions and we have evicted some of those residents but it’s a process,” Olvera said.

According to Nicole Martinez, Mesilla Valley Community of Hope has been involved with outreach in the area of concern.

“It's been less than a year since we opened Desert Hope apartments. We were able to assist with transitioning 40 people who were living outside into those apartments. There has been some press recently about what is happening in the neighborhood as other unhoused people are in that area so we have been sending our outreach team out to meet with neighbors and businesses and also the people that are unhoused themselves to try to get them closer to community of hope where they can get the support and services they need,” Martinez said.

Camp Hope in Las Cruces.
Noah Raess

While issues may still exist, Desert Hope provides affordable housing for 40 people with the end goal to end chronic homelessness. It is too early to tell if Desert Hope has helped the chronically unhoused community, but Paul Bryce’s experience at Desert Hope may show promising signs for the housing project.

“I came to Las Cruces about seven years ago, eight years ago, been homeless since. I got a couple jobs since I have been here, found out about Camp Hope, Community of Hope and checked in there and things have worked out pretty well since then,” Bryce said.

Tenets like Paul Bryce say that they are grateful for programs like Desert Hope. While he admits that the apartments have some areas to improve on, overall, he says he has had a positive experience.

“It’s been great. It’s a brand-new place so you know you can’t beat that, the services here are available and are pretty good. People can get rides to where they need to go, from ID to social security card to even find a job for you I guess,” said Bryce.

Bryce says the focus should stay on folks who are working hard to get ahead.

“I think focusing on the small bad group of people takes away from the people that are trying to get ahead, trying to lift themselves up,” Bryce said.

Helping chronically unhoused people as well as people at risk of becoming unhoused may be a complex task, and organizations are working to assist this community. For newer housing programs like Desert Hope, time will tell how effective this strategy is.

Noah Raess, an NMSU Journalism major, has produced many feature news stories for television, radio, and the web that have covered housing, public safety, climate, school safety, and issues facing refugees.