A 20-acre complex on the far west side, way beyond city limits, to provide feeding, housing, health care, treatment for mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addictions, social services, medical care and job training, and job placement to Albuquerque’s homeless community is being proposed by a newly formed business coalition called the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance (GABA).
Media coverage can be reviewed here:
The coalition so far consists of 30 Downtown business owners in areas where homeless service providers are located.
The ultimate goal is to create a single large “campus” or a complex for the homeless thereby eliminating the need for homeless providers concentrated in the downtown area or scattered throughout the city next to businesses or residential areas.
Sylvia Ortiz Spence, who operates Silverado Apparel and Home at 1318 Fourth NW, said businesses in the neighborhoods where the homeless service providers are located are negatively affected.
According to Spence: “What we want to create is one centralized facility in a safe place, somewhere that all the services can be located … so we can get these people introduced back into society.”
A suggested location for the campus is the far West Side near where the Metropolitan Detention Center is currently located.
The project is being called “Homeless Vision 2018”.
Connie Vigil, the President of GABA, is quoted as saying:
“The homeless [in Albuquerque] have not been seriously cared for the way they need to be. … There is homelessness and mental illness everywhere you look and crime is skyrocketing. The Downtown and surrounding areas are being seriously hurt. We need a real solution.”
Private attorney and member of the business coalition Gerald E. Bischoff said the current services provided to the homeless in the north Downtown area are inadequate.
According to Bischoff, a proposal by HopeWorks, formerly St. Martin’s, to build a 42-unit permanent housing site on its own campus as part of a multi-phase redesign project is a “band-aid” approach to solving Albuquerque’s homeless problem.
Bischoff gave the opinion that the 42-unit housing facility does not come close to addressing the housing needs for the estimated 1,400 to 2,000 homeless that can be found just in the Downtown neighborhoods alone.
The coalition is asking the city to slowdown the HopeWorks 42 unit project and analyze it along with the “Homeless Vision 2018” campus proposal.
The Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance (GABA) envisions that homeless service providers such as HopeWorks, Steelbridge, The Rock at Noon Day, Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, as well as the City and County would become and be part of “Vision 2018” and all would be invited to enter into leases at the new campus facility.
GABA is asking the city to buy into the concept and assist with funding and identifying a location.
Ideally, the city or county would contribute land for the campus while the GABA business alliance would spearhead an initiative to find donors.
“Homeless Vision 2018” single-sight approach to provide services to the homeless is modeled after similar campuses in much larger cities such as San Antonio, Texas and as such are cost prohibitive for exclusive taxpayer city funding.
The GABA business coalition’s announced goal is to secure funding from large organizations such as Sandia National Laboratories, Intel and Kirtland Air Force Base, who might be inclined to provide funding, along with smaller businesses and individual donors.
ALBUQUERQUE HOMELESS COUNT
The City of Albuquerque ranks 32 in the country in population with a population of 545,852.
On January 23, 2017, the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey was conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs.
The 2017 survey found that 1,318 people reported experiencing homelessness on the night of the count, which was an increase of 31 people over the 2015 PIT Count.
The 2015 survey count found 1, 287 people reported experiencing homelessness on the night of the count.
For 2017, 379 people self-reported as chronically homeless, which is an increase of 119 people over the 2015 PIT Count.
PIT counted 39 more people that self-reported as chronically homeless who were sheltered and 80 more people that self-report as chronically homeless who were unsheltered in 2017.
The full PIT report for Albuquerque can be read here:
“HAVEN FOR HOPE”
The City of San Antonio ranks 7th in the country in population with a population of 1,382,852 people.
On March 27, 2017, the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless conducted a yearly “Point In Time” survey to track San Antonio’s homeless population.
The San Antonio, Texas survey found that at least 2,700 displaced persons living in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.
The “Haven For Hope” located in San Antonio, Texas is a “one-stop shop” campus that’s dedicated to helping a county’s homeless population.
There are 30 agencies on the Haven For Hope 22-acre campus and it can house upwards of 4,000.
The services include housing, food, job training, child care and even kennels for pets, among other services.
Mental health and addiction treatment is done across the street from the campus.
It cost $101 million to build the campus complex and 60% of that came from private donations.
The campus has an operating budget of nearly $20 million a year.
According to annual statistics, the number of the unsheltered homeless population has decreased about 15% since Haven for Hope started in 2010.
Haven for Hope reports it has had about 2,700 graduates move to permanent housing.
About 4,600 others have moved into temporary housing such as in-housing treatment programs.
The campus has not solved San Antonio’s homeless issue.
The last homeless count showed about 2,800 people who are still unsheltered and considered homeless in the greater San Antonio area.
A PROJECT ALREADY IN THE WORKS
In 2014, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County voters overwhelmingly voted to approve and impose a one-eighth percent gross receipts tax to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county and it was called the Mental Health Service Tax.
On May 24, 2018, it was announced that Albuquerque and Bernalillo County will be spending millions from the mental health service tax fund on a state-of-the-art project they hope will get the most chronically homeless people off the streets of Albuquerque for good.
The development is basically identical to GABA’s proposal, but obvioulsy on a smaller scale.
The idea is to build an all-in-one, 24-7 campus-like housing complex where people can live and get medical and social services on site.
A “request for proposal” (RFP) for the joint city and county homeless housing project was issued and if built, it would be a first of its kind in New Mexico.
According to the project 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 calls for developers to come up with a plan to build a 40-unit, apartment-style complex in Albuquerque that offers permanent housing alongside on-site professional medical and social help for its tenants.
According to one news report, the expectation is that the facility will be home for those who are chronically homeless and may deal with mental illness or substance abuse.
Bernalillo County is also spending $1.3 million to develop and fully fund a Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Transition Planning and Re-entry Resource Center using funds from the Bernalillo County behavioral health tax fund.
The Re-entry Resource Center is designed to reach individuals who may have behavioral health challenges and a high need for resources, such as temporary shelter, food, and re-connecting with family members or community providers who can help former inmates gain footing after leaving jail.
CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE SERVICES TO THE HOMELESS
It is estimated that the City of Albuquerque has between 1,300 to 1,500 chronic homeless people.
The Family and Community Services Department is a key player in the City’s effort to end homelessness.
The Departments services include prevention, outreach, shelter and housing programs and supportive services.
The City of Albuquerque has at least 10 separate homeless service provider locations throughout the city.
The entire general fund budget for the Department of Family and Community Services is $39.9 million.
The $39.9 million is not just exclusive funding for services to the homeless.
The service offered by the Family and Community Services Department are directly provided by the city or by contract with nonprofit providers.
The services include social services, mental/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.
As noble a goal as it is, the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance (GABA) should not hold their breath that the city or county will endorse or fund a project that creates a 20-acre homeless “campus” in a remote and desolete section on the far west-side of the city to provide housing, drug treatment and social services to the city’s 1,500 plus homeless.
The immediate perception of the “Vision 2018” 20-acre complex on the far west side in the middle of nowhere is that it is an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to the homeless issue for removal of the homeless from downtown area.
Based on the Haven For Hope model of San Antonio, Texas, the Albuquerque’s homeless issue will not be completely solved even with such a campus.
All too often, we tend to forget our humanity and resent or even condemn the homeless for what we think they represent.
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.
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 condemn to fight their demons until the very day they die.
One thing we should never forget is that the homeless do indeed have human rights to live as they choose, not as any one says, and they cannot just be arrested and housed like criminals or animals.
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.
Many homeless do not want to ever be reintroduced into society.
Many homeless have committed no crimes and all to often are the victims of crimes themselves, even being bludgeoned to death for fun and pleasure as Albuquerque has seen in the past few years when teenagers killed two Native Americans sleeping in a vacant lot .
Charitable organizations such as Joy Junction, HopeWorks, Steelbridge, The Rock at Noon Day, Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, all 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 their services.
One argument GABA will be confronted with is that the City, the County and charitable organizations are already doing all they can with the programs they have to assist the homeless.
Further, many of the existing charitable organizations such as Joy Junction will not want to enter into any kind of lease arrangement or relocate to remote areas when they already own city facilities out right in Albuquerque or Bernalillo County.
A problem that can easily be identified is that it will not be self-sustaining in the long run with private donations and that it will eventually have to be fully funded and operated by a government entity such as the city or county.
Albuquerque and New Mexico are a very poor city and state not known for huge corporate or private donations with few wealthy citizens.
Intel for example will in all probably be gone within a few years.
Our business community as represented by the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Forum and the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP) have never been known to be big time supporters to find solutions to the homelessness in Albuquerque and are far more interested in their organization membership profit margins.
A legitimate concern is that such a facility will run the risk of Albuquerque becoming a destination city for the homeless and increasing the city’s homeless population.
From a strictly cynical standpoint, such an ambitious project will require considerable courage and commitment seldom seen from elected officials to help those in serious need and in crisis who do not or will not ever vote.
In the long term, GABA fund raising efforts would probably be better served helping the various existing charitable organization that assist the homeless and work on projects with the city targeting and tackling the homeless in the downtown area.
JOY JUNCTION AND DR. JEREMY REYNOLDS REMEMBERED
On July 11th, 2018 Dr. Jeremy Reynolds, the founder of Joy Junction passed away passed away from cancer.
Dr. Reynolds was an exceptional individual who for 30 years went above and beyond the call of duty in helping Albuquerque’s homeless and relying on private fundraising.
On February 2, 1017, Dr. Reynolds wrote:
“The mindset of wanting to do something myself instead of waiting for someone else to do it, was in part, what moved me to create a different type of homeless shelter in our community – one for the entire family — where, notwithstanding space limitations, no one is turned away, no matter the time of day or situation.
This means that when a family of four comes through the door, we take them all in, regardless of gender, age, race, sexual orientation or religion.
Over the past 30-plus years, Joy Junction has grown to serve more than 10,000 meals each month, not including the more than 6,000 meals served by our mobile feeding unit called The Lifeline of Hope.
This service was started in 2009 to provide food, beverages and hygiene products to those who have shelter but very little else, and to individuals who for a variety of reasons live on the streets, where their “pillow” is often a concrete sidewalk.
In addition, recognizing that overnights are some of the most need-saturated times of the day, Joy Junction staff drive a van through the streets of Albuquerque between about 1 and 5 a.m. in search of anyone who might need assistance with food, water and when available, a blanket or sleeping bag.
Those small acts of kindness do make a difference, as some have showed.
At Joy Junction, we’ve made it our mission to not only provide basic needs like food and shelter, but also emotional and spiritual assistance so individuals can get back on their feet. In addition, guests at Joy Junction are welcome to stay as long as they need, so they can become “whole” again.”
Dr. Reynolds entire guest commentary on my blog entitled “It Takes A Village To Help The Homeless” can be read here: