Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, representatives from the Albuquerque Police Department, state representative Sandra Jeff and other officials traveled to Arizona on Friday to meet with Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly. They agreed to a timeline for creating and funding a task force to address issues faced by Native Americans who find themselves homeless in Albuquerque. It was the second of two meetings between the mayor and Native American leaders following the brutal murders of two Navajo men as they slept in a lot in Albuquerque last month.
Native Americans experience homelessness at a much higher rate than their non-Native counterparts. The rates of assault for Native Americans are also higher, with 71 percent of urban homeless Native Americans reporting attacks in 2012, according to data from the Mayor’s Office.
Berry said the task force will look at programs to offer housing to the homeless, possibly by expanding the Heading Home program he established in 2011. But Berry also said looking for solutions to longstanding homelessness issues in Albuquerque requires thinking beyond housing.
“How can we break this cycle of homelessness? We will be looking at why the Native American that find themselves homeless in Albuquerque find themselves in that position," Berry said. "It will be a similar discussion with individuals that aren’t in the Native American community. There’s lots of roads to homelessness, and we want to make sure we’re addressing those.”
President Shelly talked about the need for job training to help get people out of homelessness, and said he would seek federal funds to make sure programs that get established remain available over time.
Shelly and the Navajo legislative Council will put together a team for the task force next week, and Berry will select a task force director by the end of the month. Officials in today’s meeting set a deadline of late October for the task force's first report, including policy recommendations and data, for the state Legislature.