Below is my Guest Editorial was published by the Albuquerque Journal August 29, 2018, page A13:
The greatness of a city is reflected by the commitment it makes to help its homeless who suffer from mental illness.
NIMBY stands for “Not in my backyard” relating to proposed projects opposed by homeowners, property owners and business owners.
Both of these philosophies are fiercely raging in Albuquerque when it comes to the tiny homes 35-unit transitional housing project, the 42-unit HopeWorks Project for mental health services and housing, and the effort to build a $100 million complex for the homeless on a desolate 20 acres of land on the West Side.
Opposition arguments range from negative impacts on well-settled business areas, residential areas, crime and neighborhood safety to cost justification.
Albuquerque is in the process of deciding between greatness or benign neglect of the homeless and treatment of the mentally ill.
Albuquerque has between 1,500 and 2,000 chronic homeless, with approximately 80 percent suffering from mental illness.
The city does provide extensive services to the homeless that include social services, mental or behavioral health care services, substance abuse treatment and prevention, winter shelter housing, rent assistance and affordable housing development, just to mention a few.
Charitable organizations such as Joy Junction, St. Martins HopeWorks project, Steelbridge, The Rock at Noon Day and 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 seek out, reach and have easy access to services.
All too often, we tend to forget our humanity, our political philosophy and our religious faith and beliefs of hope and charity, and condemn the homeless for what we think they represent or who we think they are.
We condemn the homeless whenever they interfere with our lives at whatever level – such as pandering for money, begging for food, acting emotionally unstable, sleeping in doorways and defecating in public, and, yes, when we stand downwind from them and smell what living on the streets results in personal hygiene.
The sight of homeless camps, homeless squatters in parks and living under bridges usually generates disgust.
People condemn the families of the mentally ill for not making sure their loved one has been institutionalized or is 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.
Calling law enforcement in Albuquerque to deal with the mentally ill has a history of ending tragically, as was the case with mentally ill homeless camper James Boyd who was shot and killed by the Albuquerque Police Department SWAT in the Sandia foothills.
We easily forget the homeless are human beings who usually have lost all hope, all respect for themselves and are imprisoned for life in their own minds, condemned to fight their demons every hour, minute and second of their life until the very day they die.
One thing that must never be forgotten is the homeless have human rights to live as they choose, not as anyone says they should live.
The homeless cannot be forced to do anything against their free will or change their life unless they want to do it themselves.
The homeless should not and cannot be arrested and housed like criminals or animals.
Many homeless do not want to be reintroduced into society, and many have committed no crimes and they want to simply be left alone.
The homeless who suffer from mental illness cannot be forced or required to do anything for their own benefit without due process of law.
Too often, the homeless are the victims of crimes, even being bludgeoned to death for fun as Albuquerque saw a few years ago when three teenagers killed two Native Americans sleeping in a vacant lot on a discarded mattress.
We as a city have a moral obligation to make every effort and make available to the homeless services they desperately need.