The city of Santa Fe New Mexico owned a defunct college and so when the pandemic hit the community in March 2020, city leaders moved those without homes into the empty dormitories. The local government also contracted with local motels to be able a total of 300 people with both of these resources. The city government initially ran operations, but eventually management of the facilities was taken over by a private non-profit that already worked with those experiencing homelessness. This quick response was funded largely through federal CARES act assistance.
This dormitory model has stopped outbreaks within the shelters that many other cities have seen. The cities of Albuquerque and Gallup have both faced outbreaks of COVID within congregate shelters. In fact, the city of Gallup had a single individual infect the local shelter which then traveled to the Navajo nation reservation and was devastating to the fragile population living in the surrounding areas.
Dormitories and hotels have been used across the country to successfully keep vulnerable and unhoused folks safe from this deadly pathogen. Santa Fe has a comprehensive continuum including permanent supportive housing and, during the pandemic, has worked to reduce the number of people in congregate living facilities, which has helped move many into safe places to quarantine. But advocates report that they are still seeing steady streams of individuals from all age groups entering the homeless system.
The local poverty rate is 12.4% overall, with 25% of the children living below the poverty level. The state estimates that 12.3% of the population are behind on their rent at least one month since the pandemic started. The area has a higher than average unemployment rate of 13%, and higher than the national average of people without health insurance at 14.8%. Especially during the pandemic economic downturn, these factors have contributed to many falling into homelessness.
Advocates in Santa Fe report that service agencies have really stepped up to help in the face of this global health emergency. Many Continuum of Care (i.e. HUD-funded) agencies have donated staff time to help keep the emergency facilities operational and to open overflow facilities when necessary. Service workers have been putting in extra hours to staff the dormitory in order to keep people safe.
Santa Fe is not as hostile to homeless people as some other cities in the state. Local unhoused folks have not had the conflicts with law enforcement that folks in other communities have faced. City officials are largely following CDC guidelines not to disrupt encampments during the pandemic, keeping contact with encampments to a minimum. Local advocates have worked to keep the community informed during the pandemic and to keep those without housing as safe as possible.