Feb 05, 2016
Here in Albuquerque, some really don’t like going downtown because of the homeless problem. “Somebody should do something!” And, yes, we have the problem, as does pretty much every city in the United States. (It’s also not limited to downtown; we have street people in my neighborhood. Some spend the day at the library, reading The New Yorker and The New York Times.) However, those scary, mumbling, often malodorous people are people. (And, hey, I mumble to myself all the time.)
Last year, after reading about Olympia’s Quixote Village, I contacted the city (and my city councilor) proposing Albuquerque consider building communities of tiny homes on some of the vacant land (of which we have an abundance.) The response was “we’re already doing things….and we can’t have people drinking in the housing.” ?!? I’d far rather have people drinking (or whatever) in the privacy of their own homes (as I do) than stumbling around the streets.
Then, this week, I attended the 2016 kickoff of Impact and Coffee—where nonprofits come to present and make connections. The idea behind it is for our community to come together for effective altruism, which, in turn, helps everyone. (We’ve got hundreds of nonprofits in the state—all seemingly scrambling for the same funds and support. This issue isn’t unique to New Mexico. Passion doesn’t always make for results.)
I was particularly inspired by Dennis Plummer, CEO of Heading Home. “I don’t work in homelessness. I work in housing.” He’s backing into the problem—looking at the baseline solution first. Before you can expect anyone to deal with mental illness, drug addiction or alcoholism—you need to get them into a safe environment. It’s completely unrealistic (and sanctimonious) to expect anyone to deal with such problems if they’re trying to survive on the streets. Heading Home has a terrific success rate, because they do first things, first.
Homelessness is everyone’s problem. I grew up around hard core alcoholics (four uncles and a grandfather), including an uncle (Forrest) who sometimes stumbled around the streets of the small Oklahoma town. Most of the time he lived with my grandmother, but he would occasionally try to make it on his own…which usually lasted about a week. Then maybe into an SRO…then back on the streets he would go, sometimes literally rolling in the gutters. My dad would go find him, bring him to grandmom’s and clean him up. The cycle was endlessly repeated. And, sometimes, he and another uncle would disappear for months, eventually coming back looking decidedly the worse from wear. I somehow don’t think they were doing their benders at the Ritz.
Uncle Forrest was once so desperate as to drink rubbing alcohol; he nearly died, and then went back to drinking. Even as a tiny child, I learned to not leave my little purses laying around. My shiny pennies would never be seen again (and I really loved that one change purse.) The family forced him into rehab several times and it didn’t take. I suspect partly because of the trauma he suffered when seeing heavy action in multiple theaters in WWII. He came back a broken man, and nobody knew how to “fix” him. Ironically, he outlived all his siblings except my mother. However, his brain was long gone (as I suspect, his soul).
So, when I see one of those scary, stumbling people—I see my family. It’s all in the perspective, isn’t it?
Impact & Coffee, a weekly meeting, is a collaboration between Sinc, the Grant Plant, La Red and community volunteers, and made possible thanks to the generous support of the PNM Foundation. (And they serve good coffee. AND start at the imminently civilized hour of 9 a.m. I’ll be back.)
Still here? Well, if you got any value from this post, please consider making a donation to Heading Home.
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