Albuquerque’s Tent City-No Easy Solutions

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.

Founder and CEO

Joy Junction Inc.

A portion of Albuquerque's Tent City

A portion of Albuquerque’s Tent City

There are no easy answers for the individuals who at least for the moment have made the area close to 1st Street and Iron home.

The city’s law enforcement has given a suggested move out date, and along with representatives from other agencies, Joy Junction has provided food, and offered spots at the shelter for a few of the campers.

However, in addition to concerns of prostitution and other criminal behavior cited by the Albuquerque Police Department, some of the residents of Tent City are active substance abusers, others have histories of violence which would preclude them from staying at Joy Junction, and some have mental health issues such as post traumatic stress and are unable to stay in a typically crowded shelter environment.

As the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, I sympathize with their plight. They are, quite literally, pilgrims traveling through a foreign land.

But I also feel bad for those individuals whose homes and businesses border this troubled area. In addition to other concerns, some have taken their concerns to area media, saying they don’t feel safe. As such, they don’t want these folk there, and have made that clear in no uncertain terms.

Service providers and homeless advocates have a name for that. We have dubbed it NIMBY-not in my back yard. Everyone agrees that a solution is necessary-as long as the solution is nowhere close to them. That makes an already difficult situation even harder to deal with. Campers have, quite literally, nowhere to go.

A resident of the neighborhood where these folk are camped out released a video last year, showing the mess left after some of the campers-at that time sidewalk sleepers-departed.

Back then, they blamed an area mission as being a magnet for the homeless, saying that these people went to the mission to get food and then hung out in the neighborhood to bed down for the night once the mission closed to non residents.

Well, whether that’s true or not, where are these folk supposed to go? I was curious what Joy Junction’s Facebook friends thought, and a few months ago (before the growth of Tent City), I posed that question online.

Joe had some good thoughts. He said that the first step is getting people to talk about the problem. He admitted that dealing with the violent homeless is hard, saying that many are “dealing with untreated mental illness-they are souls with many burdens.”

He continued, “My view is that solving homelessness for everybody is something worth doing. The violent people are hard. I don’t know what the answer is as far as dealing with them.”

Joe suggested exploring community housing options for people with active addictions.

He said, “People with addictions are suffering, and a lot of times getting them off the street is the first step forward to helping them with their other demons.”

At the time I asked this question, several people said that those sleeping in tents or on the streets in Downtown Albuquerque should be left alone, because they’re not bothering anyone. However, that’s not necessarily true.

Area residents have felt slighted over the years, saying that due to the concentration of homeless services Downtown the homeless gather in their neighborhood. They feel that they are shouldering an unfair amount of the burden.

Yes, if you’re homeless and the services you need are Downtown, that’s probably where you’re going to stay. It could be helpful if residents of all parts of Albuquerque met together and discussed this issue, and recognized the joint community responsibility to address the needs of the less fortunate among us.

A number of other comments were less practical, with people sympathetic but apparently not understanding the complexity of the situation.

Someone else wrote, “There are plenty of empty houses. Why (can’t they) give them shelter for the night time?”

I’ve seen variations of that comment on Facebook, comparing the number of empty houses nationally with the number of homeless people. There’s one problem. All those empty houses belong to people, or have perhaps been repossessed by banks or other lending institutions.

That concept surfaced again the other day on local news, where an individual suggested the problem could be quickly solved if this was to occur.

However, you just can’t commandeer empty houses belonging to someone-even with the noblest of reasons-and put homeless people in them. That violates the spirit of everything Americans hold dear.

And those empty houses are also in neighborhoods, residents of whom don’t usually want the homeless anywhere near-especially people with histories of violence, or those in the throes of active addiction.

So what’s the answer? Kim said that while quite obviously society doesn’t have a clue what to do with them, we can do something. “Provide them with a blanket, jacket, whatever warm we don’t use. Buy them a cup of coffee. We are here for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

Sally’s comments kept echoing in my head. She said, “No child dreams of growing up to be homeless. It’s freezing tonight, folks. Please remember these folks in your prayers.”

Well said, Sally and Kim. And if you’d like to do more, please consider getting involved at Joy Junction. You can make that happen by calling our volunteer line at 505 463 4818.