Old motels, hotels could be one answer to getting more people housed

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Posted at 11:09 AM, Jul 10, 2022

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico — Tracy Vaughn looks at her temporary home in reverence — a tent under a three-sided structure.

"Being in here gives you that sense of I can make it. It gives hope," she said.

Vaughn is a resident at Camp Hope, a transitional living space in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It's a service that’s in high demand here and across the country.

America is short more than 200,000 shelter beds to house the number of people that need them.

Nicole Martinez, the executive director of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, which runs the camp, says a lot of state and federal dollars go toward permanent housing. However, she believes the transitional housing that gets folks like Vaughn off the streets while they search gets overlooked.

"With the growing visibility of people sleeping outside, communities are searching for solutions any way they can," she said.

However, Martinez says as the pandemic forced many people out of large traditional shelters and on the street, but there seems to be some changes happening.

Her state is now looking at the past as a potential solution as $10 million is going to New Mexico communities to buy old motels and hotels and turn them into transitional housing.

States across the country like Montana, Washington and Colorado have turned hotels and motels into temporary shelter. Hank Hughes of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness says this program could mark a shift in state governments recognizing the need for creative, lasting solutions.

"I just think over the years there's been a real recognition now by many in our state legislature that homelessness needs to be addressed and so it's good to see that happening," said Hughes.

"I think that there's room for transitional housing. I would wanna make sure that there is a path toward permanent housing," said Martinez.

As promising as these creative ideas are, Martinez hopes that funding will continue to be funneled into transitional housing needs and that the focus on the root issue isn’t lost.

"I think we all want fast solutions. We want the tents gone from our neighborhoods, right? But what we have to remember is these are people, these are members of our community and that without having enough affordable housing, we're gonna continue to see people in our neighborhoods who are unhoused," she said.

For people like Vaughn, more transitional housing, be it in former motels or in tent cities, means being one step closer to the dream of structure and security.

"It's gonna be alright. That's the biggest thing it's gonna be alright," she said.