Once a person becomes homeless, climbing out can be a monumental chore. All the stars need to align: the appropriate counseling or treatment; the availability of affordable housing; a case manager or agency to offer support; and the person’s willingness and ability to take on the heavy lifting to move forward.

Reading the February 8th New Mexican article, Getting Veterans off Santa Fe Streets, I was reminded of the systemic obstacles that can stand in the way of obtaining permanent housing.

HUD vouchers are housing vouchers that entitle people who are chronically homeless – defined by HUD as more than one year on the streets or in a shelter — to receive financial support in renting an apartment. A person living on a $770/month social security check would need a HUD voucher to be able to afford permanent housing in Santa Fe, for example.

However, if a homeless individual needing a voucher suffers from a substance use issue, seeking treatment can endanger their ability to obtain the voucher.

If they go into treatment for their addiction and remain in substance abuse treatment for 90 days or longer, HUD disqualifies them from the voucher system. They would not be considered chronically homeless upon discharge, even if they have been homeless for many years prior to their treatment!

I have seen this happen more than once. One of our guests who needed continued treatment left on the 89th day in order to qualify for a HUD voucher. Another guest with 20 plus years of homelessness lost his eligibility because he received temporary housing while waiting for his HUD voucher.

All too often, our guests are not capable of following through, consistently, with the myriad requirements to get housed. That is why we at Interfaith Community Shelter support a “Housing First” model, which means exactly what it says: Housing, first.  Once they obtain stable housing, people can begin the work to deal with the trauma, mental health and/or substance use issues that led to their homelessness in the first place.