By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
At least, that’s according to one person talking recently to area news media.
One definition of crisis is “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.”
When you define it that way, we do have a crisis, but it’s not a new one. It means every homeless person is in crisis.
All the recent attention about homelessness-and the crisis reference- is an increased awareness of a situation in Albuquerque that has been steadily simmering away, but has come to the forefront because of all the discussion about Tent City.
The embattled Tent City started in Downtown Albuquerque, and upon its eviction due to concerns of illegal activity moved into a vacant lot in the center of the historic Barelas neighborhood. It was booted out of there soon after.
I asked a number of Joy Junction staff and guests, as well as friends on Facebook, whether they thought there is a homeless crisis in Albuquerque.
One shelter guest said that regardless of the numbers, she always considers the issue of homelessness to be a crisis situation.
But is it worse than it has been? This individual said she thinks it’s about the same.
She continued, “It has always been a problem-always minimized or pushed to the side. Although there are a lot more resources now.”
This person said, “The reason it has been considered a ‘crisis’ now is only because it is being publicized by the media (mostly negative). All of this attention should, hopefully, bring constructive results, more solutions, more support, resources and understanding for us, the homeless and our city.”
Another one of our guests at Joy Junction we talked to about this issue is 61 years old, and born and raised in Albuquerque.
She said while is proud to be a New Mexican, it’s “breaking my heart” to be homeless.
This person said she’s been homeless for four years, and her age and dental problems have made it very difficult for her to find work. Would it be fair to say she’s been in crisis for four years? I think so. This woman believes that Albuquerque has a homeless problem, and it’s getting worse.
But Kathy Sotelo, my executive assistant at Joy Junction for five-and-a-half years said she doesn’t believe that there’s any more of a homeless “crisis” now in Albuquerque than there ever has been.
She continued, “All the news media stories surrounding the ‘tent city’ situation has brought the issue of homelessness in Albuquerque to the forefront. Homelessness is Albuquerque has always been as severe as it is now. However, the news coverage about Tent City has made it nearly impossible to look the other way, at the moment.”
Former Joy Junction staff member and guest JodiLynn Bartell agreed, saying homelessness “has been there.”
However, she said, people just didn’t want to see it.
She continued, “Why would they? They have homes that shelter them, food to not go hungry, water to wash themselves and have clean clothes. Maybe some of these people need to spend a week in a shelter or living in a tent, and not when the weather is nice.”
Writing on Facebook, Paulina said while she believes the homeless situation in Albuquerque is worse than previously, the word “crisis” is being used because of all the coverage surrounding Tent City.
Nonetheless, she said, there is an upside. “Maybe this will open the eyes of people who usually chose to ignore the fact that there are so many people who simply have nowhere else to go, whether due to illness, addiction, and yes even their personal choices.”
Also writing on Facebook, Keith said that people who work with the homeless know the issue of homelessness is no worse than it has been.
He wrote, “It’s just in peoples’ faces now, and they have no choice but to look at people they see as ‘below them.’”
Stephanie agreed, commenting that homelessness being a crisis has always been the issue. However, she said “Some people just have worn blinders.”
Joy Junction Receptionist Felicia Gonzales said homelessness in Albuquerque has been an ongoing “crisis” issue in Albuquerque, which will always be around.
She said, “We are always going to have this crisis in one way or another. Families lose their homes due to foreclosure, losing a job, people getting sick, mentally ill, addicts etc.”
Felicia brought up an important point, saying there are a number of mentally ill homeless people who really don’t have any place to go.
While shelters like Joy Junction do what we can for people with mental health issues, there are situations when a guest becomes disruptive due to a lack of proper healthcare or medication. At that point, we have to ask them to leave for the safety of everyone else staying at the shelter.
When these individuals are asked to leave Joy Junction as well as other shelters, there are fewer than needed services to help them.
Sadly, until there are more facilities that help with the addicted and mentally ill, and federal laws are changed to allow more effective help for those with mental health challenges, we will continue to see situations like Tent City springing up periodically.
So do we have a homeless crisis in Albuquerque? As I said at the beginning of this article, we do when you define the word crisis as being “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” But that’s not new. What’s new is the amount of attention being paid to the issue.
Let’s continue the discussion, both city, statewide and nationally, and come up with creative solutions to better the plight of those most unable to take care of themselves. Such a discussion can do nothing but good.