Less Drama-More Dialogue.

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.

It might just help our city’s homeless

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, I want less drama and more dialogue-in every area of my life.

Dialogue, and not drama or confrontation, is the key to helping alleviate some of the homeless issues Downtown.

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Homeless campers in Downtown Albuquerque.

Take those individuals who have been camping out on Iron and 2nd Street. Some 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.

However, they’re camping on city streets in a residential neighborhood. 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. 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.

A resident of the neighborhood where these folk are camped out released a video earlier this year, showing the mess left after some of the campers-at that time sidewalk sleepers-departed. At that time, 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, so I posed that question online, along with a picture.

Joe had some good thoughts. Like me, he agreed 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.”

I agree the first step is getting people to talk about the problem. 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 continued, “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.”

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. That’s not necessarily true.

Area residents have felt slighted over the years, saying that due to the concentration of homeless services Downtown that 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. 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.

Someone else commented, “I think the City of Albuquerque should use that $30 million Tesla money and buy up houses and turn them into places like Bee Hive Homes…only make these for the homeless. Several can live in one home with a resident ‘caretaker’ to fix meals etc.”

Again, an idea that “sounds” nice, but is totally impractical. Even if that money was available, houses are in neighborhoods usually populated by people who don’t want homeless people near to them-especially the violent or mentally ill homeless. And ask yourself. Would you-honestly?

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.”

I kept thinking what Sally wrote. Her 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.”

And while you’re praying, call the city or the county-politely-and ask them about organizing a community discussion to talk about helping alleviate the issue of the chronic homeless here in our city. Your willingness to get involved and dialogue-not confront and protest-might just be the answer that’s needed in our city.