The greatness of a city is reflected by the extent it commits to a better life for its homeless who suffer from mental illness.
On Monday, August 20, 2018, after more than two hours of public comment and deliberation, the Albuquerque City Council showed a little greatness with a 5-3 vote.
The Albuquerque City Council voted to award $2 million to St. Martin’s HopeWorks to build a complex that will provide behavioral health services, medical care, counseling and treatment and shelter to the chronically homeless and the homeless who suffer from mental illness.
THE HOPEWORKS PROJECT
According to the HopeWorks project Request For Proposal (RFP), the “priority population” will include individuals in four criteria including homelessness or severe housing instability, frequent admission to MDC’s psychiatric unit, frequent utilization of detox services, and frequent use of emergency medical service for behavioral health needs.
The project is to be built on a site near St. Martin’s Hospitality Center on Third Street NW, which has been at the location for decades.
The HopeWorks project includes purchasing land, planning, designing, constructing and improving a single-site behavioral health services center with associated supportive and transitional affordable housing.
The HopeWorks project will be developed in three phases.
PHASE 1 will include a 42-unit supportive housing building for chronically homeless individuals.
On the first floor, residents will be able to access behavioral health and case management services.
Residential units will comprise the second and third floors of the building.
The proposed HopeWorks project will include one-bedroom units, designed to be both ADA accessible and contain universal design features.
PHASE 2 includes construction of a new administrative and services building.
The complex will include a management office, a maintenance room, a central front lobby, a social services provider’s office and additional service space, as well as public gathering spaces and laundry areas.
PHASE 3 will replace the existing day shelter and dining hall and combine them into one building.
The program will identify the “chronic homeless” that need medical assistance and counseling but by no means is transitional housing.
Approximately $9 million total is being expended on the project: the $2 million from the city council, $3 million in Bernalillo County funding and housing vouchers and another $4 million from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.
The project should in no way be considered near or similar to the $2 million “Tiny Home Village” project of 35 small one room, 110 square foot shelters, to be built on one acre of land and that is to provide transitional housing to those who qualify.
ST. MARTIN’S HOSPITALITY CENTER NOW ST. MARTIN’S HOPEWORKS
St. Martin’s Hospitality Center has been around for over 32 years and for 25 years has been at the current location between 3rd and 4th streets just north of Mountain Road.
St. Martin’s provides critical services for people experiencing homelessness and near homelessness.
According to its web site, services provided by St. Martins include: Housing; Shelter and Emergency Support Services; Mental Health Treatment Services; Outpatient Treatment Services; Psycho-Social Rehabilitation; Residential Treatment Services for Co-Occurring Disorders; Consumer-Run (Peer-Support) Services; Recovery support for returning citizens through Dismas/Covenant House Program; Supports the severely disabled through the Assertive Community Treatment Program (ACT); and Employment Services.
On average, nearly 6,000 individuals, including those with severe and persistent mental illness, substance abuse problems, military veterans, woman and families fleeing domestic violence and the medically fragile seek the various services from St. Martins.
St. Martin’s is now being rebranded as St. Martin’s HopeWorks and is the main developer of the 42-unit supportive housing multifamily development project.
Greg Morris has been the Executive Director St. Martin’s Hospitality Center for the last two years.
Greg Morris had this to say about the “rebranding and renaming” of St. Martin’s Hospitality to “HopeWorks” combining the two words hope and works as one:
“Hope is a powerful word. … We’re serving a population that has largely lost all hope. Part of our job is to re-instill hope in each human soul we come in contact with. What the indomitable human spirit can do with just a little bit of hope is just incredible and we see these success stories on display in our community every day. … Works’ is an action word, and if there’s something we know how to do at St. Martin’s it’s action that makes a tangible difference in the lives of the people who we serve.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
NIMBY stands for “Not In My Back Yard” relating to proposed projects opposed by homeowners, property owners, and business owners.
Two of the biggest issues that generate extensive public outcry of “not in my backyard” are the location of methadone clinics, homeless shelters and locating service providers to the homeless.
Not at all surprising, many spoke in opposition to the St. Martin’s HopeWorks project.
Opposition arguments ranged from negative impacts on new area businesses such as brew pubs, residential areas, to neighborhood safety to cost justification.
One argument made was that the complex will be only a 42-unit complex.
The argument fails to account for the on-going influx of patients over a period of years with thousands to be assisted and helped.
The Reverend Vincent Chavez, pastor of St. Therese Parish and Catholic School, told city councilors that the proposal will not solve “this serious issue” of the homeless.
Reverend Chavez was quoted as telling the City Council:
“We the residents and businesses of North Downtown, Wells Park and near North Valley are overstressed and are at wit’s end. … None of us, the deprived neighbor or our residents with an actual roof over their heads has a quality of life, security and well-being as long as the homeless issue has no real permanent solution.”
So much for acts of charity, compassion and Christianity by the Reverend Chavez.
St. Martin’s HopeWorks will be providing services to people and patients that are far more likely a danger to themselves than North Downtown, Wells Park and the near North Valley.
The people who will benefit from HopeWorks will be off the streets of Albuquerque.
Reverend Chavez and those in opposition to the project apparently do not recognize that the project is in fact a “real permanent solution” for the homeless.
The 42-unit project represents a “real permanent solution” for the homeless designed to provide an array of medical, counseling and housing services that can help people “regain self-sufficiency” and where possible integrate back into society.
The St. Martin’s HopeWorks project should have been a “no brainer” of a vote and should have passed on a 9-0 vote given the amount of planning and development dedicated to the project and the decades of documented success by St. Martin’s to provide services to the homeless.
Democrat City Councilors Ken Sanchez, Isaac Benton, Diane Gibson, Klaressa Pena and Cynthia Borrego all voted for the HopeWorks project recognizing the void the project will fill in providing necessary medical services to the chronic homeless suffering from addiction or mental illness.
Not all surprising fiscal conservative Republicans Brad Winter and real estate broker Trudy Jones voted against the project with Republican City Councilor Don Harris unable to attend the meeting.
All three Republican City Councilors represent the most affluent neighborhoods and parts of the city where the homeless are seldom seen but for them to see even one on a street corner or freeway entrance is unacceptable to them, especially Trudy Jones who was the sponsor of the “anti-panhandling ordinance”.
“Mr. Progressive” Democrat City Councilor Pat Davis voted no with Republicans Winter and Jones but only after trying to speak eloquently about the need to help the homeless, but explaining he could not vote for the project saying that the project would have too much of a negative impact on a developing area.
Democrat Pat Davis and Republicans Winter and Jones had no problem approving $130 million for the ART Bus project that has had a major negative impact on Route 66, but no, they just could not bring themselves to vote to allocate $2 million to help a homeless service provider.
All too often, we tend to forget our humanity, our political philosophy and perhaps even religious faith and resent or even condemn the homeless for what we think they represent or who we think they are.
We fear and even condemn the homeless whenever they interfere with our lives at whatever level such as pandering for money on street medians, begging for food, acting erratic, acting emotionally unstable, and yes even when they are found sleeping in doorways and defecating in public.
All too often, people loudly condemn the families of the mentally ill for not making sure their loved one has not been institutionalized or not taking their medications.
All too often, the families of the homeless mentally ill are totally incapable of caring for or dealing with their loved one’s conduct or unrelated people feel they have no choice but to call law enforcement to deal with the homeless who suffer from mental illness.
Historically, calling law enforcement in Albuquerque to deal with the mentally ill usually ends tragically as was the case with mentally ill homeless camper James Boyd who was shot and killed in the Sandia foothills by APD Swat.
We easily forget that the homeless are indeed human beings who may have lost all hope and all respect for themselves and are imprisoned for life in their own minds condemned to fight their demons every hour, every minute and every second of their life until the very day they die.
One thing we should never forget is the homeless have human rights to live as they choose, not as any one says they should live.
The homeless should not and cannot be arrested and housed like criminals or animals.
Many homeless do not want to ever be reintroduced into society and many have committed no crimes and they want to simply be left alone.
The homeless cannot be forced or ever required to do anything for their own benefit, or against their own free will or change their life unless they want to do it themselves, but that does not mean no effort should ever be made to offer them help they so desperately need.
Too often, the homeless are the victims of crimes, even being bludgeoned to death for fun as Albuquerque saw a few years ago when 3 teenagers killed two Native Americans sleeping in a vacant lot on a discarded mattress.
Charitable organizations such as Joy Junction, St. Martins HopeWorks project, Steelbridge, The Rock at Noon Day, Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, provide services to the homeless and do so by being where the homeless can be found and where the homeless can reach and seek out and have easy access to services.
These organizations are filling a void that government can not fill.
The sooner Mayor Tim Keller signs the $2 million city council appropriation for HopeWorks the better.
It is estimated that the City of Albuquerque has between 1,300 to 1,500 chronic homeless people that can be documented by the City living on the streets.
The City does provide extensive services to the homeless that include social services, mental or behavioral health, homeless services, health care for the homeless, substance abuse treatment and prevention, multi-service centers, public housing, rent assistance, affordable housing development, and fair housing, just to mention a few.
The following homeless services are funded by the City of Albuquerque, HUD’s Continuum of Care grants, Emergency Shelter Grants, and other grants administered by the City of Albuquerque:
1. Emergency Shelters for short-term, immediate assistance for the homeless for men, women, families, emergency winter shelter and after-hours shelter.
2. Transitional Housing assistance designed to transition from homelessness to permanent housing.
3. Permanent Supportive Housing for homeless individuals dealing with chronic mental illness or substance abuse issues
4. Childcare services for homeless families
5. Employment Services and job placement for homeless persons
6. Eviction Prevention or rental assistance and case management to prevent eviction and homelessness
7. Health Care services for homeless individuals and families
8. Meal program providing for homeless individuals and families in need
9. Motel Vouchers or temporary vouchers for homeless individuals with immediate medical issues and families with children, where emergency shelters cannot accommodate them.
10. The Albuquerque Heading Home program initiative which moves the most medically fragile and chronically homeless people off the streets and into permanent housing. Since its inception in 2011 to January, 2017, it has placed 650 people into housing that assists with housing and providing jobs.
For more on Albuquerque’s homeless see “Out of Sight, Out of Mind Solution To Homeless” at: