FARMINGTON – San Juan County received a federal grant to provide housing for youths transitioning out of juvenile and protective services and who have a history of homelessness.
The $287,000 grant is focused on the rapid rehousing of 18- to 24-year-olds and is part of a two-year pilot project in partnership with the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, which received $3.37 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2018, according to the county’s announcement. San Juan County is one of 13 counties in northern New Mexico involved in the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Grant.
“This is a great partnership which we hope will serve a population in need in our area,” said San Juan County Juvenile Services Administrator Traci Neff in a written statement.
The program will accommodate 11 youths at a time who will be provided with housing and connected to additional community resources, according to the county. As the clients are employed, they will slowly be transitioned out of the program, starting with paying 30% of their rent. Once the youths are deemed self-sufficient, their spot in the program will open, allowing a new client to enter, according to the county’s statement.
The two-year grant also allows for a new youth homeless navigator, Amber Tibbetts, who will work for the Juvenile Services Department of San Juan County. She will work directly with the youth clients to coordinate their housing, education and other community services.
“We’re doing housing first, and I’m here to help them get jobs,” she told The Durango Herald.
While Tibbetts coordinates the youths in San Juan County, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness will select eligible clients from those who are referred to the county. The program has already housed one youth, and it is waiting for more referrals and placements, Tibbetts said.
The transitional housing program is part of a larger push by the county to address the behavioral health needs of the community, which also saw the hiring of its first behavioral health services director, Su Hodgman, earlier this year.
“This is one more piece of the puzzle toward a complete picture of a healthy community serving those in need of behavioral health services,” San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner said in a written statement.
The concern around how to help youths transition into stable housing continues across the state line. In March, it was estimated the number of youths experiencing homelessness in the Durango School District had risen by 63%. Throughout La Plata County, there was an estimated 157 students experiencing homelessness during the 2017-18 school year.
Although La Plata County does not have dedicated youth housing, there is the La Plata County Regional Collaborative Management Program, a coalition of nonprofits, schools and health care departments working to provide resources to youths experiencing homelessness.
Since the grant money is solely dedicated to providing housing, San Juan County will partner with local organizations like the Farmington Fire Department, San Juan United Way and San Juan Safe Communities to collect furniture and home goods donations from the community, San Juan County spokesman Devin Neely said.
Anyone looking to donate is encouraged to call San Juan Safe Communities at (505) 599-1492, Neely said.
“We’re trying to house them so that they are off the streets,” Tibbetts said.