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Homelessness, addiction go hand in hand

Aimee Martinez was homeless by the time she was just 19. Her trouble with addiction led to her being outcast by her family. She started out “just smoking weed” when it was still illegal for recreational use. Along with smoking, she was also using barbiturates and “Triple C.” Triple C is a popular name for Coricidin Cough & Cold medicine. 

By 2015, Aimee started using methamphetamines. Her argument for using was that marijuana was still illegal in the state, and “dope” [methamphetamines] got her ten times higher than marijuana could.

Aimee Martinez found help and refuge at the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope after struggling with homelessness and addiction since she was 19 years old. (Photo by William Cummings/Kokopelli)

“I was at my lowest point at that time, and my friends offered dope to me when we would hang out,” Martinez said.

In 2018, Martinez was able to get off the drugs and made an attempt to stay clean. However, following the loss of her father, she struggled with the disconnect from her family and relapsed. It wasn’t until after the relapse that she found Mesilla Valley Community of Hope in Las Cruces, New Mexico. There, she was able to access counseling services and get connected with Blue Cross Blue Shield mental health services.

“Community of Hope, if you think of it, like they give you a rope of hope to save yourself or hang yourself.”

Martinez is just one of the estimated 580,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in America. Her story may sound all too familiar to those experiencing homelessness themselves, have a relative experiencing it, or have otherwise seen homelessness up close. Through the struggles of being homeless, people often find themselves in despair and feeling like they may have lost everything. 

This is where homelessness and addiction often intersect. According to Martinez, when an individual is battling homelessness, they often turn to things that help numb the pain like alcohol or substances.

“People don’t become homeless because of addiction. [Addiction] comes after they feel like they have lost everything,” Martinez said. Martinez said that while homelessness and addiction often go hand in hand, they have separate causes including neglect, mental health issues and poverty. 

According to a medically reviewed study published by the American Addictions Center, “homelessness and addiction often occur simultaneously, and, unfortunately, many people struggling with both issues are unable to get the help they need. Substance abuse can develop due to the stressors associated with homelessness. On the other hand, addiction can also contribute to home loss.” 

Nicole Martinez, executive director of the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, looks out over Camp Hope Monday, April 3, 2023, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Camp Hope provides temporary shelter, shower and cooking facilities to over 50 residents. (Photo by William Cummings/Kokopelli)

According to the same AAC study, one in three people who are homeless have problems with alcohol and/or drugs. Two out of three of these people say they have had a lifetime history with drug or alcohol use. 

The Mesilla Valley Community of Hope is working to combat the number of people living unhoused in Las Cruces, but the homelessness problem goes way beyond just this community.

“I don’t think that Las Cruces is unique in the national trend of people unhoused,” said Nicole Martinez, executive director of MVCH. Martinez said that the post-pandemic era is still showing its effects in terms of increased homelessness. Martinez mentioned anyone with mental health issues, low income, as well as people not being able to afford rent and normal things anymore due to inflation caused by the pandemic, are all stories she has seen among people who utilize the Community of Hope.

Although Mesilla Valley Community of Hope staff members actively assist unsheltered individuals in getting into permanent housing situations, there is only so much they can do. 

A Camp Hope sign appears in the rear portion of the Community of Hope campus, where a tent city is located and various utilities are offered to the unhoused people residing there. (Photo by William Cummings/Kokopelli)

According to Nicole Martinez, when it comes to substance use problems, MVCH may be able to provide counseling or health services, but the facilities, campus and related services are not available 24/7, leaving it up to individuals in desperate situations to fend for themselves. Martinez also explained that it is important to keep the power in the individuals’ hands. She said people will do what they want to do, and they have that right to choose. 

Aimee Martinez understood that the Community of Hope was just that, a community full of hope for people to better themselves. While still visiting the shelter, she knows that she must be responsible for the change she wants to see in her life and that she is the only one who can truly help her get there.

“Community of Hope, if you think of it, like they give you a rope of hope to save yourself or hang yourself,” Martinez said.

Mesilla Valley Community of Hope is open daily to anyone in need of a shower or a place to do laundry between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., but it’s “home” only to those who live in the Camp Hope tent city. Camp Hope is described on the MVCH website as a “self-governing transitional living community that provides temporary, transitional shelter in the form of tents, showers, and cooking facilities.” According to the website, about 50 homeless people currently reside at Camp Hope.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance or alcohol abuse, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline, use the online treatment locator, or call 1-800-662-help (4357). 

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