|Turning the 'Duke City' into the 'City Immaculate.'|
It Won't Work!
by Jeremy Reynalds
April 14, 2007
Category: Social Issues
|HE CALLER SOUNDED a little frantic. Identifying herself as the manager of a local motel, the woman explained that she was having problems with a woman who had been staying at her motel.|
She explained that "Josephine's" (not her real name) conduct was just not conducive to staying in a motel and that even though she had money the motel from a business standpoint was no longer able to accommodate her. As a result, the manager said, this very distressed woman was now standing in the lobby yelling and using inappropriate language to express her feelings about no longer having a place to stay.
Could we help, she asked? I told the woman that Joy Junction would be delighted to send our van to bring this soon-to-be former hotel guest down to the shelter, but we were not in a position to force this individual to come if she didn't want to. Had she called the police, I asked?
The stress level in this hotel employee's voice raised up a notch as she explained that she didn't want to call the police as she felt it would be, in essence, chalked up by the City of Albuquerque as a "black mark" against her. In other words, too many calls to Albuquerque's emergency services would put her establishment under the ever-so-watchful eyes of the city's nuisance abatement team (officially named the Albuquerque Community Enforcement and Abatement Task Force), and could ultimately result in her business being targeted for censure or closure
My reaction was one of shock and horror at the thought that a businesswoman would be so reluctant to call the police.
I told the motel employee I understood her concern and sent a driver to the hotel to try and Josephine (who apparently no one wants or feels they are in a position to help) to come back to stay at Joy Junction. When our driver arrived she went up to the room where Josephine had been living, and found it empty. That didn't deter our diligent staff person, who parked the Joy Junction van she was driving and went walking up and down Albuquerque's Central Ave. until she found Josephine wandering close to the motel.
My staff person gently coaxed the woman to return to Joy Junction with her. Soon Josephine was back at the shelter, surrounded by people who to at least some extent understood a little of what she was experiencing.
I was curious about the motel operator's reticence to call the police, as this wasn't the first time I had heard this concern, so I decided to do a little on line investigative work about the abatement task force.
In a 2003 article by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez (www.usmayors.org/uscm/best_practices/usmayor03/albuquerque_BP.asp), the mayor wrote that during its first year of its existence the team looked at about 560 Albuquerque properties. They included residential homes, businesses, apartment complexes and abandoned properties which were violating a variety of city ordinances and diminishing quality of life for the residences and businesses to which they were close. The team took action, Chavez wrote, against 153 of the 560 properties reviewed in its first year. Those actions included what Chavez called "the negotiation of, and entering into nuisance abatement plans with the various property owners."
The nuisance abatement team is obviously performing a valuable public service when people need a prod to make sure that their homes and businesses stay up to par with those around them and don't lower everyone's quality of life. But there's more to it than that. Look at what Chavez wrote next in that same article.
"I believe the enforcement actions have resulted in the reduction of calls for service by the Police Department at the properties involved. There is no doubt that the reduction of calls for service at the properties has had a fiscal impact on the Albuquerque Police Department. The reduction of calls for service at the various properties has been in the thousands. The actual fiscal impact of the reduction in calls for service can only be speculated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Here's the other side of the spectrum of what the mayor is saying. If the management of properties - specifically motels - which are a potential target for the enforcement team (and I am not referring here to owners of buildings who keep their properties in absolutely squalid conditions and refuse to provide even the basic rudiments of sanitary living conditions), feel unable to call the police because it might threaten their business then they will no longer feel able to take in anyone who might appear to pose even the remotest problem.
Where then will people like Josephine and others who opt to stay in cheaper hotels and who may not want to stay in a homeless shelter, end up? Are they consigned to live forever on the periphery of society and roam hopelessly through city neighborhoods as they try in vain to find a place to stay?
Why would anyone choose to live on the streets of Albuquerque (also known as the Duke City) or anywhere else? The only reason that people would be resigned to live on the streets is they have special needs which are not being met. Take the case of Josephine, who is mentally ill. She has a history, just like everyone else living on the streets. She is also a lovely human being, who has hurts, fears, dreams, hopes and aspirations just like the rest of us. We just need to spend a little more time getting to know her. Believe me, the effort expended in getting to know Josephine and others like her is well worth it
Are Albuquerque's mayor, city administration and the proponents of downtown gentrification that naive they believe they can turn the "Duke City" into the "City Immaculate" by bulldozing the buildings formerly occupied by the troubled, the homeless and the mentally ill and hoping that they will just go away? If that is the direction our city is heading, there's a storm brewing on the horizon.
Josephine was blessed because she was staying at a motel with which myself and my friend and Joy Junction Chief Administrative Officer Roseann Vona Page had made contact a few days prior. During a couple of afternoons we spent on Central we had invited the manager of this motel and many others up and down Central to call Joy Junction if they had clients who were unable to pay their bill. We also prayed with and encouraged some of the motel staff with whom we met, as well as listening to some of their frustrations. Oh and just a thought. If Jesus was walking the streets of earth today, I have more than a suspicion that He would be hanging out with those people who check into the motels on Central.
As a result of our visit to the motels, at least in Josephine's case there was no call for police service; a client is being safely housed and cared for while we search for a permanent solution for her. But let's not fool ourselves. Needy, frightened and broken people whose presence disturbs the pristine streets of Albuquerque have to go somewhere and while there may be a reduction in calls for police service some of those requests for help are ending up at Joy Junction.
In just over three years we've seen our typical number of guests skyrocket from about 150 people to as many as 300 residents each night. Effectively dealing with the issue involves more than closing up unsafe motels and discouraging responsible motel owners whose businesses are located in troubled areas from calling law enforcement.
The people who were living at these establishments have to be safely housed on a long term basis. And when Joy Junction and other community agencies are full, what then? The answer to that question needs to be pondered sooner rather than later. Our failure to do so could result in Josephine and others like her ending up dying on what could quickly become the not-so-pristine streets of the much longed for "City Immaculate."
© 2007 ASSIST News Service, used with permission.
Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City: A Call to Service." Additional details about "Homeless" are available at http://www.HomelessBook.com He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
More columns by Jeremy Reynalds