Since the start of the Albuquerque Heading Home housing initiative, we have known, that the solution to homelessness is housing. Covid-19 has made this even more clear. Almost a year ago at the start of the pandemic when it was no longer safe to house hundreds of people, including families, at the Westside Emergency Housing Center (WEHC), Heading Home moved operations to several community centers to provide safe, non-congregate emergency housing. When the community centers had to be returned for their function of providing a safe place for our children, the City of Albuquerque created Wellness Hotels and Heading Home stepped up to operate them.

One Wellness Hotel is dedicated specifically to the needs of individuals over the age of 60 with underlying health conditions – those who would suffer the most severe consequences should they contract Covid-19. Another hotel, Wellness Two, was established to serve the needs of families experiencing homelessness. Heading Home has provided over 150 rooms of hotel space to these individuals experiencing homelessness including over 130 children.

Almost a year into the pandemic, Heading Home remains focused to ensure that individuals and families experiencing homelessness receive proper housing. The City of Albuquerque, through the Covid-19 relief funds, provided funding to several housing providers to start Rapid Rehousing as well as permanent supportive housing programs. We are calling this effort the Fast-Track to Housing. The purpose is to have a site-based project that expedites the connection of people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. Heading Home created a shared goal and recruited a team of professionals from various agencies to make this possible.

The Case Management and Navigation Services are being provided by a group of five University of New Mexico Pathways Navigators. This awesome group of people has been able to contact all of the residents at our Wellness Two hotel to make them aware of their services and enroll them. Once enrolled and housing goals are identified, clients are turned over to the Housing Coordinator who is a staff member of Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless. Once this process is complete, the Housing Coordinator connects clients to available housing and ensures a quick transition into housing.

Heading Home has received funding for Rapid Rehousing and has hired a new Program Manager and Case Manager to assist with this effort. This newly formed team will also house individuals from Wellness One to ensure that some of our older, more vulnerable individuals are transitioned into housing. Once people are housed, they receive assistance through the  Albuquerque Heading Home initiative by way of home furnishings, household supplies, cleaning products, and of course, ongoing case management support. It is the Albuquerque Heading Home initiate model that paved the way for what will be a fast track to housing for many of our community members who were living on the streets during the Covid-19 pandemic.