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Closing the gaps: City, faith leaders, nonprofits continue fight against poverty, homelessness


It was a meeting of the minds – and hearts – as leaders from the City of Las Cruces, the local faith-based community and nonprofits continued their conversation June 30 at City Hall about ways to close gaps in services for people struggling with homelessness and poverty.

The group, called Faith for the Unhoused, held its first meeting in May and plans to continue monthly meetings at City Hall.

“This mission to get rid of poverty in our area … we need to do this together,” said Casa de Peregrinos emergency food program Executive Director Lorenzo Alba.

“None of us can do it by ourselves alone,” Gospel Rescue Mission Executive Director Henry Young said. “Unless we all work together, we’re not going to see a lot of progress.”

“These are incredible folks doing incredible work,” City Councilor Johana Bencomo said during a panel discussion that included Alba and Young, along with Mesilla Valley Community of Hope Housing Programs Manager Erin Boyd and Housing Specialist Christina Gallardo from Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, LC3 behavioral health collaborative Community Organizer Logan Howard and Families and Youth, Inc. CEO Jolene Martinez.

Others attending the meeting included representatives from Ngage New Mexico, New Mexico CAFé, Southern New Mexico Pride, local clergy and faith leaders and city officials, including City Manager Ifo Pili, Economic Development Department Deputy Director Francisco Pallares and Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Natalie Green.

Pili said he “saw the effects of poverty and homelessness in our community” soon after moving to Las Cruces to become city manager in September 2020.

The message to him from every city council member, Pili said, was “Help us alleviate poverty.”

Although it is a poor country, Pili said his native American Samoa has “zero homeless” because of “faith and family.”

He sees that same opportunity in Las Cruces.

On July 30, Pili said, his office will kick off its Lift Up Las Cruces program, which will “get at the root cause of poverty in our community,” by focusing on areas of the city that have the highest concentration of poverty and crime and directing city resources to them.

“I believe we have come up with a program that is going to be successful,” Pili said. “We’re really excited about it.”

Lift Up Las Cruces is “the bones of a program,” he said. “The meat that comes around that is you and you and you,” Pili said to those attending the meeting.

The meeting also focused on a web-based referral program called Symbify, which Ngage New Mexico Executive Director Lori Martinez said can connect churches, nonprofits and government agencies to each other and to thousands of local and statewide services.

Martinez said Ngage began using the program with early childhood education providers and wants to make it “useable for everybody” to track the success of client referrals.

The gaps identified at the meeting were needs for

  • More affordable housing in Las Cruces;
  • A person to make referrals for people in need of services after hours and on weekends;
  • Resources for people coming out of prison and jail;
  • Better communication about the resources available to those struggling with homelessness and poverty;
  • A hotline to connect people to services; and
  • Training strategies for churches and other organizations on how to deal with individuals who need to be connected to services but may have mental or behavioral health issues or be resistant to help.

For more information, contact Las Cruces Minister Carolyn Wilkins at Reverend Carolyn Wilkins at revcarolyn@organizenm.org.

homelessness, poverty