The ominous clouds turned to rain and a temperature of 78 degrees as we pulled into the Joy Junction operated parking lot on 1st and Copper. It was almost 9.30 p.m.
The radio played a relaxing tune from Michael Buble as our Kathy Sotelo and I mentally geared up for outreach. It had been a busy day, but we were looking forward to the hours ahead.
We got out of my trusty 2004 Pontiac Vibe and met Lisa Woodward, our transportation manager, driving a shelter van stocked with blankets, water and sack lunches.
We started driving and soon pulled into an area close to downtown, where about 10 bedraggled souls were gathered together under a building overhang to escape the rain. We gave out blankets, a sack lunch and beverages to everyone there. They were very grateful. One man quipped, “There’s no soap on a rope so the rain isn’t that useful.”
We pulled around to the front of the building. There were another 10 or so people there. One guy appeared to have a fever and was shaking. He said he was experiencing hot and cold flashes. However, he declined an offer to call medical help.
The rain had made them cold so we gave out additional blankets. We were depleting our supplies fast, so we called back to Joy Junction for reinforcements.
Just as we were pulling away, an APD cruiser with the identifying numbers of J 71 on the back showed up. An officer stepped out and said that he’d received a call from someone “inside the building,” and everyone had to move on. When I questioned the officer about the presence of people inside at that time of the evening he said, “Well, maybe janitors or something. They’re scared to come out.”
I asked the officer where these people were supposed to go. He said if Joy Junction didn’t want to take them, that’s okay. I said it’s not that we didn’t want to, but we were full. He then said, “I don’t care.”
His attitude was so cold and callous it made me shiver. As Lisa said, “They don’t treat them like people. It’s like moving a bunch of chairs out of the way.”
Yes, there were no trespassing signs outside the building and apparently the building owners had asked police to ensure no one camped there. I understand that the officer had a job to do, but for a long time to come I will see his flinty, stony face marching around the building telling everyone there they had to leave. It seemed like he was emotionally divorcing himself from the consequences of what he was asking these homeless people to do.
I was concerned about the man with a fever. However, while I was talking to the officer he had slipped away. As I watched everyone else pick up their meager belongings and walk slowly to who knows where, I wondered where they were going and what they were thinking.
I was able to ask one man what he thought about what had just occurred. He said he’d been on the streets for many years and had experienced worse. He thanked us before walking slowly away.
We moved onto another downtown area, where a number of homeless people were sleeping or trying to. We gave out blankets, beverages and sack lunches.
We moved a little south where we found four people, to whom we gave food, beverages and blankets. They were likewise grateful, asking if we thought it was said for them to sleep there. We advised them to be cautious, quiet and well behaved and maybe they’d be okay.
One guy asked us for underwear. We had to tell him we didn’t have any. However, everyone was very appreciative for what we did give them.
We moved onto some alleyways, “havens” often frequented by the homeless. Although we saw a lot of scampering cats and a camp, no one was “home.” We left a sack lunch and continued on. No one was there, so we headed back to the parking lot to replenish our supplies and meet up with volunteer Erika Ferraro who joined us for the rest of the evening.
Next stop was a convenience store, where we spotted a homeless man who welcomed a beverage and a sack lunch.
We moved on. This time we were headed to check on a couple who “live” under an overpass. Some time ago they had made Lisa and a former employee clam chowder in a coffee can. Lisa said she and her colleague gracefully declined, encouraging them to use what food they had for themselves. Lisa told us the couple had commented, “You’re always feeding us. Now we want to feed you.”
We moved onto the South Valley, to check on a man with dogs who couldn’t stay in shelters because of the animals. He wasn’t there either.
We drove back downtown again. By now it was midnight. We fed about 10 people right in the heart of downtown. They were visibly tired and hungry, but grateful. We made our way to revisit some locations where we had stopped earlier.
On the way Lisa placed a blanket over a guy sleeping in a doorway and left a sack lunch. He didn’t wake up. We drove north.
There weren’t any additional people at the locations we’d been to before. Next stop was the Kimo Theater, where a couple of guys were sitting outside. They gratefully accepted a sack lunch and a beverage, but declined a blanket.
As we talked to these guys, we were treated to the strains of a live saxophone player a few hundred feet away. At the same time we endured some loud rap coming from a couple of cars with jacked up wheels.
This was downtown Albuquerque at 12.45am. It was time to call it a day-or a night! After driving back to the lot I headed home, happy that we had done what we could. I wondered how the officer who was driving APD car 71 felt! I know he had a job to do, but couldn’t he have at least let a little bit of compassion shine through? I hope he never finds himself in a position where he has to sleep outside on a wet, damp night in Albuquerque.