Housing crisis affects youth striving to make their way
Recently, the entire town has been abuzz with a collective energy to solve the housing crisis. In an effort to change the difficult and now dire direction we have been on, many stakeholders, including Santa Fe YouthWorks, have been meeting for months, even before the municipal election in March, to strategize solutions, advocacy and action. We cannot work quickly enough to reach solutions.
There is no question. A severe housing shortage has hit Santa Fe like a crashing wave and is affecting shelter-seekers at every income level. Sensibly, the Santa Fe Association of Realtors represents one end of the housing continuum, while YouthWorks, among other organizations, represent shelter- and home-seekers at the other end. We have come together under the umbrella of a newly created organization called the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition.
It is gratifying to see organizations such as the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, the homebuilders, and the community foundation bring resources to bear on the crisis. It is encouraging to see Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and his administration bringing similar groups of stakeholders together to imagine policy proposals that can be brought forward and passed.
The sad reality is that the thousands of area young people that YouthWorks has served since 2001 experience perpetual and persistent struggle with the “housing crisis.” It never ends for them and only gets worse and more painful over time. That said, it has never been as bad as it is now.
When we stop to consider the landscape, the problems become apparent. More than 1,500 young people turn 19 in Santa Fe every year, and over 40 percent of them don’t graduate from high school, making it difficult to land regular employment. Even if they get a job making Santa Fe’s living wage, they can’t find or afford a place of their own. This recipe results in thousands of Santa Fe youth who are effectively homeless. They might not be on the streets or under a bridge, but a friend’s or cousin’s couch is not a home.
The ongoing mission at YouthWorks peripherally addresses the housing crisis that persistently faces our opportunity-challenged local youth. We do this by increasing their earning power. This is the way we know to help make housing more affordable. We do this through education and GED programs, through peer and individual counseling, skills training, job placements, internships and a supportive environment. All this improves well-being for our young people, and thereby increases the quality of life for all in our community.
The young people who frequent YouthWorks generally aren’t leaving Santa Fe. This place is their legacy. They will be here to take care of our beautiful city in all its complexity. They should be nurtured, supported and encouraged to be their best. They will have great careers building homes, opening restaurants, fixing what needs to be fixed and performing all the other skills a world-class city demands. If we cannot provide the security and independence of a place of one’s own, we will have failed them for sure. Our community’s product of promise and hope will have been a cruel lie.
Our plate at YouthWorks remains full, even as the demand for our service grows while the resources to supply solutions shrink. We remain committed to the hope and promise offered by the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition. The collective energy of others committed to the same goals is infectious, but it will evaporate without support from the entire community. So, when affordable housing for opportunity-challenged youth is proposed in or around your neighborhood, we trust you will support it wholeheartedly.
Melynn Schuyler is executive director of YouthWorks in Santa Fe.