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City of Las Cruces 'functionally' ends veteran homelessness

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LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - The city of Las Cruces announced Monday afternoon that it reached a major milestone as it is the 13th city to end veteran homelessness in the country.

City officials said that Las Cruces has reached "functional zero" for veteran homelessness.

"Functional zero means that we have been able to reduce our level of homeless veterans so significantly that we can house any homeless veteran that comes through our doors within 30 days," said Nicole Martinez, executive director for the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope.

Martinez said the finding is based on a "point in time" count of homeless veterans in Las Cruces.

"I think if we have one veteran on the street that is homeless, and then we have a problem," Martinez said.

Martinez said this effort began in 2014 after Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagashima joined the challenge to end veteran homelessness with other cities throughout the country.

At that point she said the Community of Hope partnered with the city of Las Cruces with a goal to end homelessness among veterans.

She said that is when they began targeting homeless veterans for each of the nine housing programs the Community of Hope offers. The varying programs include both transitional and permanent housing.

In an effort to keep the veterans from returning to the streets, she said the Community of Hope keeps case managers that help at each housing location.

"It's very client centered, they need to be able to talk about what it is that will make them stay housed successfully," Martinez said.

Over the last fiscal year the Community of Hope assisted 298 veterans and provided housing to 79.

Martinez said the organization also an employment endeavor underway as the plan is to reach out to business partners that will help hire homeless veterans just getting back on their feet.

"Our work is not done, we still know that there are those who are homeless who are still suffering," Martinez said.

Ernest Ramey is an Army veteran who received help through the Community of Hope in 2010. He said he was living in El Paso near the Rescue Mission after he lost his job and ended up on the streets.

"You get four jobs in a year and they all close up because of the economy and it was hard to keep a job," Ramey said.

Ramey said he found out about the Community of Hope in Las Cruces and went there to seek help.

"By the end of the day I had keys to my new home," Ramey said.

"No veteran should be homeless but many times due to the economy that happen in a person's life. You end up homeless and you just need to go look for help and be patient and they'll help you out."

Officials with the El Paso VA Health Care System said that similar efforts are underway in the Borderland to bring down the number of veterans who are homeless.

Charm Mizer, homeless veterans coordinator for the El Paso VA, said case workers have been assigned to help each veteran in their program who is homeless.

Mizer said they are hoping El Paso can reach a "functional zero" status for homeless veterans by the end of February as the city is not far behind Las Cruces.

Mizer said the VA has 281 housing vouchers they hand out to veterans in Las Cruces and El Paso.

"In El Paso I have the capacity to house 30 homeless veteran men and 8 females at our emergency shelters," Mizer said. "We have the transitional housing that is 20 men then we have another program that houses 15 veterans that are people who have mental illness."

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Las Cruces is the third city in Region 6 to reach "functional zero" in veteran homelessness. The other two cities are New Orleans and Houston.

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