By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
Callers referred to agencies closed or not equipped to meet their needs
If you need food or shelter, it might not be such a good idea to call Albuquerque’s 311 infoline.
For one, the service is only open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. through 9 p.m., and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. “for animal welfare calls and fixed bus times.” So if you’re desperate in the middle of the night, look up and see one of the many signs plastered around Albuquerque, you’re out of luck. Wait till it gets light.
Although the Berry administration was apparently working on a plan back in February 2015 to address the panhandling issue, when I heard of Berry’s use of the 311 service to help address the issue, red flags went up. These operators are generalists, and probably not overly familiar with the services available for the homeless and hungry in Albuquerque.
With that in mind, I asked some of our Joy Junction staff to do a little undercover work and pose as homeless and hungry citizens in need of help. I wondered what they would be told. My fears were well founded.
Thursday, a staffer called 311 posing as a homeless and hungry dad who had just arrived in town with two kids. He was directed after what I thought was a rather long wait (though the operator was very pleasant) to two agencies which do not provide overnight accommodations, and are also only open business hours. He called those agencies after hours, and was understandably greeted by an answering machine.
Another one of our staff called 311 earlier that day, saying she and her husband were homeless with four kids and had no place to go or nothing to eat. She was referred (admittedly by a very nice but somewhat clueless operator) to a number of agencies, none of which were shelters. Some of them feed periodically and some close early.
The following day, a staffer called 311 and told the operator she had just been kicked out by her boyfriend, and had a small daughter. She was referred to the Barrett Foundation, Catholic Charities, St. Martin’s and the Supportive Housing Coalition.
The staffer asked if these were free services, and she was told they were. The problem here is that while the Barrett Foundation is an excellent service, it is not an emergency housing agency. St. Martin’s is a day shelter, and makes referrals for housing, but closes at 4 p.m.
Catholic Charities and the Supportive Housing Coalition could have possibly made a referral to emergency shelter, but it’s another phone call for an already disspirited and discouraged homeless person. That just isn’t a good idea. Imagine how you would feel.
My staff person asked if these were the only resources available, and she was told they were.
Another one of our staff called in, saying she had two kids and an elderly mom needing shelter.
She was referred to call the Barrett House and Safe House. The Safe House has a primary focus on domestic violence, and like the previous situation this call is adding extra stress for the potential clients and unnecessary work for the already overworked agency.
This staffer said when she asked the 311 operator if these were her only options for shelter, she was told they were.
Another staff person told 311 he was a single male with twin boys, who just got dropped off by a friend to a motel that he could only afford for two or three days. He said the only friend he had in town abused drugs.
My staffer was given the number for Health Care for the Homeless to receive a two week hotel voucher.
He was also told to investigate Catholic Charities, St. Martin’s Supportive Housing Program, and inquire about the services offered by the United Way. The operator said he had no other information available.
Another staffer told 311 she was a single mom and needed emergency shelter for herself and her three year old daughter. She was referred to the Barrett House, SAFE House, and the Albuquerque Rescue Mission.
The Rescue Mission focuses on men and has a small facility for women. There is a very cordial relationship between the Mission and Joy Junction, and I am sure they would refer to us if so asked. However, why not make a direct referral?
This staffer called 311, and told the operator she needed shelter for herself and her 10 year old son. She was referred to St. Martins, the Albuquerque Rescue Mission, Albuquerque Heath Care for the Homeless, Catholic Charities, and then advised to call 211 to get in touch with United Way.
I called 211 for research purposes, and waded through the voice mail to get to emergency numbers. There were no numbers for emergency shelter or food on this extension, although Healthcare for the Homeless for the Homeless was listed.
So what are we to make of this? Inquiring minds want to know, and the City of Albuquerque has a responsibility to answer questions. While Joy Junction was only listed as a resource once by my staff who called, my heart hurt-not for us as we have plenty of clients-but for the new residents in town who will see these signs and think they’ll get help. They might, but not much!