While Signs Abound for Albuquerque’s New Panhandling Initiative, So Do Yet to Be Answered Questions

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.

Founder and CEO

Joy Junction Inc.

Questions include a service closed on Sundays and only open 15 hours a day

Three one one two20150507_122902_edit_editWhile signs litter Albuquerque promoting the city’s new panhandling initiative, there are plenty of questions still to be answered. Unfortunately, the issue seems to have fallen off the local media radar screen.

As questions I sent over a week ago to the mayor’s office and his chief of staff have still to be answered, I thought it was time to lay out these concerns in a more public forum.

Signs tell those in need to call 311. It’s no secret that a lot of homeless activity, and many needs related to the homeless, occur at night. However, the 311 service closes at 9pm and isn’t open until 6am.

In addition, information relating to the homeless isn’t available from 311 on Sundays. Wouldn’t it have been better to have included that on the signs?

According to the 311 division director, when operators are asked questions about the homeless, they are limited to the information on the www.cabq.gov/help website. That has resulted in incorrect, incomplete and erroneous information being given to callers.

A number of my staff called 311 recently over a day or so (posing to the 311 operators different scenarios), and were given unhelpful information-such as referrals to agencies already closed. I asked the mayor if there were any plans in the works to improve this.

There are still plenty of panhandlers in Albuquerque.

There are still plenty of panhandlers in Albuquerque.

The mayor correctly contends that $5.00 given to the donateabq site will go further in helping the hungry than if the same $5.00 was given to a panhandler. No one disputes that.

However, a number of those panhandling have mental health issues, PTSD and other challenges, and will not go near any of the established shelter/meal sites. I asked the mayor how this initiative helps them.

There are also individuals who, we have to admit, will always be dependent on the largesse of others, but who we as a community have a moral and societal obligation to assist. If people stop giving donations to them, how will they survive?

I have been pretty critical about this panhandling program. I believe the mayor’s team could have come up with something far better.

Panhandlers abound in Albuquerque

Panhandlers abound in Albuquerque

Instead of responding to my concerns, the mayor has chosen to “bash the messenger” and ignore the question-saying, basically, that I am, in essence, always a critic of any new program initiated by him or his administration.

I did criticize “Heading Home” back in 2011. It’s important to be aware that the Housing First model, upon which “Heading Home” is based, is still somewhat of a controversial initiative nationally.  I am far from bring its only critic.

While I still have concerns about the original model of “Heading Home,” its current incarnation is somewhat different from what was originally presented.

According to “Heading Home” material available online, the original program was supposed to provide a means whereby the chronically homeless, the most at risk men and women who suffer from addictions, disabilities, or mental illness, would be removed off the streets and housed in small individual dwellings.

A Jan. 6 2011 news release from Alb Mayor Richard Berry said that those housed would fall in the categories of “medically vulnerable and chronically homeless, veterans who are ineligible for their service-related benefits, or families who could have their children taken away due to unstable housing.”

It was claimed the system was not only created to help remove the homeless off the streets of Albuquerque, but also to save taxpayers money by eliminating many of the calls to firefighters, police, or emergency room hospital visits) from those who frequently reach out to those entities for help. There was also a hope that it would keep the homeless out of jail.

For example, we have housed for some time a mother with a number of children who the Heading Home agency is planning to assist. While in need of help, she hardly seems to fit the category outlined in the original Heading Home” material. To the best of my knowledge, she has never lived on the streets.

I have made no comments about the current incarnation of “Heading Home,” other than have my staff work with the organization for the benefit of Albuquerque’s homeless, disenfranchised and marginalized.

However, my questions remain, as should yours, about this new panhandling “initiative.” Unfortunately, unless local news outlets press the city for answers to the questions, I’ve outlined, I don’t see them getting answered any time soon.