Advocates call for New Mexico lawmakers to prioritize housing and rehabilitation
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Advocates are urging lawmakers to fund housing and drug treatment over “tough on crime” programs.
Vanessa Hulliger knows the pain that can come from a broken system.
“No family should feel this loss, no mother should lose their child to guns, drugs, or prison,” said Hulliger, who started Stronger Together, Never Alone as a support group for parents of incarcerated youth.
Hulliger shared her son’s story of addiction during a meeting with the ACLU of New Mexico and New Mexico SAFE coalition Thursday.
“We noticed a change in Noah not long after the pandemic shut down the schools,” she said. “His grades began to drop, he became more defiant, going out with these new friends, and not obeying curfew.”
Hulliger says it escalated to drug and alcohol use. They tried to find therapy, but jumped from waitlist to waitlist. Then, a life-changing call came in October 2020.
“He had been shot four times,” Hulliger said. “He suffered a collapsed lung, borken ribs, internal bleeding and a fractured pelvis. My world completely crumbled.”
Noah was involved in a drug deal turned shootout, where another person died. Two years and two trials later, a judge sentenced him to 29 years in prison.
Hulliger has since joined the effort to turn the tide away from violence in the state.
“I believe in rehabilitation and second chances,” Hulliger said. “I’ve learned that it’s crucial to address the root causes of incidents like these. We need better access to mental health services, drug rehabilitation programs and resources for families who are financially struggling.”
Other local advocates are also urging lawmakers to take a new approach this session with funding for more housing, treatment, and behavioral health resources.
“The fact of the matter is that us being tough on crime actually will not make us safer,” said Nayomi Valdez, director of public policy with ACLU of New Mexico.
“We know housing is one of the best investments that we can make in our communities in order for all of our community members to be safe and secure,” said Rachel Biggs, chief strategy officer with Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless.
The group says they’ve already seen several pre-filed bills attempting to increase penalties and create new crimes. They hope to see different priorities on the governor’s agenda.
“Making treatment and social services like housing available, affordable and accessible should be our priority this session,” said Emily Kaltenbach, Drug Policy Alliance senior director. “We need to shift from a criminal approach to a health-based approach.”
With potentially billions more in the state budget, they believe it’s a possible investment.
“Ther’s great opportunity, and we don’t want that to be wasted,” Biggs said.
The group mentioned only one pre-filed bill that aligns with their goals so far – one to increase young people’s access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use in outpatient settings.