The Quiet Homeless Community in the City
From one place to another
Albuquerque is the first city that I lived in that is surrounded by mountains. I moved away from San Antonio, Texas early August of 2016. The city’s coldest time of year is “January, averaging at a high of 47 and low of 26 degrees Fahrenheit” (U.S. Climate Data). Its warmest month is in “July, averaging at 90 degrees for a high and 60 for the low”(U.S. Climate Data). I have done my fair share of familiarizing myself with the surroundings of the city. Compared to San Antonio the buildings are much shorter and contain many intriguing small businesses. The view towards the east side is very scenic with a wall of mountains shielding that side of the city. Dark clouds tend to hover the tallest mountains and rain collects near the edge of the city. Two major highways, Interstate 40 and Interstate 25, provide quick transport around Albuquerque and allow easy access for in and out of the city. Albuquerque’s current population is estimated to be around “559,121(Census)” according to the United States Census Bureau. The people I usually see are minorities and the census says it’s about “48.5 percent for Hispanics and Latinos while Asians and other unnamed races being the lowest percentage (Census). My girlfriend and coworkers all say to not live in the so-called “War Zone”, which is a popular term adopted by the locals to describe a high violent crime area usually gang related. It’s located near the surrounding areas near Central, Wyoming, and San Mateo. I remember my boss telling me, “All I know is there is a lot of gangs and crime around that area. I wouldn’t look for a place to live around that area.” Kyu is the boss of our company and is very outspoken. He is Korean and seems to always be in a great mood, knowing the best places to try new foods. Patricia is the husband of Kyu and said, “Yeah, its not a place you would want to run at night. My ex husband and I were shot at once when driving near San Mateo by Wyoming. This car was on our tail and we let it past us and suddenly they stopped and whipped out a gun and shot our front window. My husband at the time was able to drive around them.” Patricia loved to talk and I could see why her and Kyu got along because they were always full of energy.
From east to west, west to east
I noticed that the west side of the city around Ventana Ranch was more upscale compared to areas on the east side. The west side has nice closed off areas with nice houses with other surrounding communities. It amazes how an area can have so much civilization and outside those communities contains nothing but desert for miles, however it does provide a beautiful view of the mountains. Based on what my boss told me I would assume that the east side is the most dangerous side compared to else where in the city, which was the total opposite of San Antonio, Texas. Following that information, I looked up the heavy areas of crime using www.crimemapping.com and found a significant difference between the west and east side, showing huge crime activity in the east side compared to the west
The quiet ones that know one knows
My current job requires me to drive around the city delivering medications every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursdays from 8am to 5pm. I’ve noticed a lot of panhandlers and homeless people, which is more common on the east side of the city compared to the west. Every intersection’s frontage road, corners, parks, and gas stations have panhandlers and homeless people. From my morning drive on Montgomery to Central near CNM, these individuals brave the streets with their flimsy brown signs asking for money or just blessings. On my way to work everyday I see one with a sign reading “beer money.” Many of them carry their own unique personal way for asking for money in which one will notice while driving throughout Albuquerque. While some ask for money, some others wish to entertain surrounding drivers, although this is extremely dangerous. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, “the 2015 homeless statistics by state shows a total of 2,629 homeless populations in New Mexico (USICH).” In my opinion, many homeless stay near the shelters for help. From my personal experience none of the homeless population near the shelters beg for money in comparison to others that linger elsewhere. I’ve personally been to some of Albuquerque’s homeless shelters and facilities that the city has to offer. Some of the places I know include: St Martins, Joy Junction, Healthcare for the Homeless, Good Shepard, and Family Service of Albuquerque.
A community within a community
St Martin’s is located on 3rd street and I can guarantee you that you can’t miss it. It’s a two story grey building that begs to be the poster child of a homeless facility. Right above its mural painting located on the right side of the building is a light that hangs from a wall with pigeons that nest. I frequently climbed the blue painted stairs to St Martin’s nursing center, located on the second floor, which usually has a man eating and sitting on the stair step. An intercom sounds off frightening a few pigeons here and there, “We are now serving numbers one through ten. Serving numbers one through ten. Please come to the kitchen now.” That intercom is like a clock that reminds the homeless community that it is lunchtime. The food that is served brings back memories of school lunches at the cafeteria, with those same trays that they use at school to serve you. The entry to the facility is usually surrounded by baskets of homeless items and never ending conversations between one to the other. I’ve witnessed one man rearranging his basket to fit as much as he could like a game of tetris. It seems having a grocery basket is like a small blessing to have as a homeless person. Having a bike can be seen similar to affording a car to the homeless community because it allows them to roam in city much quicker. A blue vehicle that reads “Blue Cross BlueShield of New Mexico” is always parked in the same spot, which leads me to believe it is rarely driven. A small African American with a clean white t-shirt and gold necklace surrounded himself with people he could find comfort in. His head was so shiny with a glare from the sun and his teeth were so white that you could assume that he just got them whitened. You could hear the uneasiness in his voice when he shook his head in disappointment telling the others, “I never ever would of thought I would end up homeless. Man I never asked of this.” Without hesitation a white man with a peach fuzz beard, which you could confuse him with Shaggy from Scooby Do, interrupted him and said, “Man, no one asks to be homeless man. Don’t worry brother. Everything will be alright.” The white male put his hand on the African American’s shoulder when he saw that he stared at the ground in what looked like to be shame. I already spent too much time ease dropping on their conversation because I was on the clock with my job. These two men’s conversation struck my heart with gratefulness and empathy. That empathy gave me the courage to hand two dollars that I had left after I spent it on a six dollar torta, a Mexican sandwich, from a taco trunk. The homeless man thanked me with a rough smile and his tall native looking friend waved at me in happiness. His dark hair was so long and silky, as if he belonged in an L’Oreal commercial. I did what I came for and dropped off some medications to the nurse, Liz at St. Martins. Her office door is colored with chalk with “LIZ NURSING” written on it and a drawn up colorless flower below it, which made me assume they ran out of different color chalk. Her hair is a goldilocks gold with peach colored skin that blended her rosy cheeks really well. I could hear the country slang in her voice which left me feeling nostalgic because it reminded me of Texas. She paused her country music as she held the door with her tiny shoe and let me in.
“I’ve been here for more that fifteen years and the homeless population still grows.” She got the idea that she was being somewhat interviewed, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to pry with questions. “Why do you think there is a huge population of homelessness in Albuquerque? Kyu told me it was the weather but is that true?” She spoke without batting an eye at me. “It is the weather. Did you know we get all four seasons than you Texans? I’m kidding, I’m from Dallas, Texas as you can probably tell. A lot of my clients tell me that they like it here; it ain’t too cold or too hot.” Compared to Texas this weather is cold for me, however compared to other states I can see why Albuquerque can be considered balanced. She pushed her scarf to side many times when speaking because it kept flopping over. She pulled out a pen hidden by her golden hair and signed for the medications. She was used to the stress of being a nurse and could work while speaking to me.
Most of the homeless population suffers from some sort of mental disorder. A lot of them have addictions, which makes it even worse for them. I tell you Gus, more and more come and I’m already up to 87 clients. People think that the population will die down as it gets colder, but that’s not the case. They flock in here. They need a place to stay, but we can’t hold them all in. Sometimes we just can offer them blankets, warm clothes, and store some of their stuff.
It was clear that she is concerned about her clients. Liz was the woman you’d go to if you needed advice or just plain old grandma answers. That didn’t stop her from remembering all her clients and which ones are on her naughty list. I ran into one of the clients, unintentionally as a matter of fact. We will call her Joann just for privacy purposes. She didn’t give me time to ease myself to say hello or build up a conversation. “You the new guy? Oh yeah I’ve been waiting on my oxycodones! Aw man you’re going to have a good time working for Kyu, he’s an awesome guy!” I recollected a conversation that I had with Kyu about “Joann” and he warned me she loves to talk, but she’s a good person so give her something to talk about. I thought to myself, “Awe great, just throw me in the lions den why don’t you Kyu.” I wasn’t worried though; I started with small talk with her. “So where are you from?” She quickly responded without hesitation. “New Braunfels, Texas!” I was utterly surprised and found some relation to her, since I used to live near there. Anything reminding me of Texas brought a butterfly in my stomach. She grabbed my hand, which made me feel a sense of mortality because it was so frail and bony. I told her, “You wont believe what that place looks like now. The city has grown so much. No more small-town New Braunfels anymore. It’s a great place to eat and visit though.” She left little time to continue and interrupted. “Yeah I’m sure its changed now. Its been over sixteen years since I been here. There isn’t anything there for me anymore. I’m hoping those meds you left me help me feel good!” I was puzzled as to why she moved here so I pried and asked, “So what brings you here?” What she told me next would sadden anyone, but she wasn’t troubled. “My husband got a job here, but he passed away and I was left with nothing. Good thing I had no kids so I wouldn’t trouble them. Liz here takes good care of me, as well as you guys. I was hungry hanging around Kyu’s office and he saw me outside. He gave me some soda and food and recommended me to come here.” She laughed a lot as she said her words, yet I couldn’t tell if she just did that as a reaction or was trying to hide the pain. As I left St. Martins there was a crowd gathered at the kiosk area. A guitar riff could be heard along with a familiar melody being sung. “Give me one reason to stay here! And I’ll turn right back around.” It was a song by Tracy Chapman, which I have not heard since I last listened to the radio. The man singing sat on a brick layered wall with his feet dangling down. His feet swung back and forth as he strung his beat up guitar and sang beautifully. I noticed myself step down those blue stairs at a slower pace to just watch him go. Others were eating and shaking their heads to the beat and it was clear they enjoyed the music. I smiled and thought to myself, “Man, I haven’t heard that song in forever.” I added the song Give Me One Reason to my iTunes playlist.
Oh, but there is help
Healthcare for the Homeless is located just two streets down from St Martin’s. This clinic seems well together compared to most doctors offices and they provide quick healthcare for the homeless community. Right in front of the beige colored building is a kiosk area where I see many homeless surround that area either having a conversation or having a smoke. Right across the Healthcare for the Homeless is a place my boss likes to joke and say, “The coffee shop for the homeless.” I always see many people coming out the building with little white heated cups filled with something warm to drink. A white van pulls up near the sidewalk and pulls out many blankets and sheets. Another truck pulls up with two men, one on the back of the trunk and the other driving the vehicle. I thought to myself, “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.” The truck was filled with generic brand foods. One cereal that caught my eye was the off brand of frosted flakes. I found it extremely odd that there was a cell phone station on a yellow stand. Free cell phones are handed out to the homeless community through government funded means. An article by Joy Junction homeless shelter expressed different opposing opinions of individuals about seeing a homeless individual with a cell phone. Some felt that it was not necessary for them to possess one and others expressed that it was a “key tool.” One person wrote, “To me it’s only good for emergency calls, and not to be used in a meeting or in a class of any kind (Joy Junction).” A couple of health professionals found them having a cell phone to be very useful because it allowed them to be monitored and reached for appointments so much easier. I approached the pharmacy for Healthcare for the Homeless and waited in line to drop off meds. One of the homeless clients looked at me with a grin and said, “You got my heart in there?” I was confused but noticed he started to glance at my portable fridge. I shrugged my shoulders and became a bit worrisome. The pharmacy technician looked at me and assured me not to worry. He laughed in a subtly way while saying, “Don’t worry. He’s a jokester. He probably wishes you have beer in that cooler.” He signed so roughly that I could not make out his name. I wanted him to straighten his mustache to look like Super Mario. “Its Rogelio. Sorry about that. Anyways, you can pick up payment at the front desk.” I followed the door outside and walked through the red doors. There was a huge line to be waited. It was clear that they had a huge homeless population to care for. One lady complained about waiting to long while pointing to her pet dog. “She’s starting to get tired of waiting. Y’all told me twenty minutes.” I didn’t have the courage to pet her. As I walked out, I scanned the facility and observed as much as I could. Around the corner another crowd was gathered. Several of the homeless individuals tightly guarded their grocery carts and laughed at this white male across the street. The white male was tumbling while seemly about to fall in the middle of street. He was bracing himself with his grocery cart while pushing it forward through traffic. Traffic was piling up and horns could be heard honking all through 1st street. “Screw you, you assholes! Y’all done screwed me over! Why don’t y’all get your asses over here?” I was left confused as to what he was rambling about and as he gained distance from us it all became gibberish. The other people laughed at what they were witnessing. The security guard didn’t seem worried either and said his own piece with his hands on his waist. “Oh man, there he goes again. I swear one day he’s going to get hit by a car.” He eventually went onto 2nd street and became out of site. Others shrugged off the scene, just claiming he was only crazy.
I spoke to another nurse at UNM mental health facility about my interest and knowledge about the homeless population. Lori is one of the sweetest nurses you could ever know. Her brown curly hair never seemed to flutter as she rushed in and about helping patients. She always seemed to have a calming nature with a smile on her face, even though she was needed and busy. “It’s a sad thing Gus. About one-third of the homeless population has some sort of behavioral health issue. Schizophrenia is more common amongst them and sometimes it’s hard to help these people because they have no resources, homes, or anyway to keep them stable. You can’t always depend on them to take their meds you know.” I had no idea they took the homeless population in their facilities. She signed my form but I wasn’t done yet. “I had no idea y’all took in that population here. “She seemed so calm, but she held in her smile and answered with a troubled voice.
Yeah we do. They are usually taken in the outpatient, which is on the other side of the building. I help them sometimes but I’m more needed here at the in-patient. Its not only mental health issues but blood pressure and of course I can’t forget depression. Some of them are just people who lose their homes and struggling to get back. Because of that, depression can follow them and it’s a sad site to see. I think behavioral health doesn’t get a lot of funding when it comes to health either. Anyways that’s all I got for you.
I could tell she had to get back to work since other nurses needed her. “Thank you so much Lori, I really appreciate your input and time!” She pushed the green button to let me out while waving goodbye. Most of the doors at these facilities were shut on both sides to prevent clients from entering or leaving without supervision. As I hit the road back to my work, I noticed a figure standout in the middle of traffic. An African American individual dressed in all blue clothing was waving his hands back and forth in the middle of the street. It took me awhile to figure out what he was doing, but it became clear as day when traffic was moving accordingly to him. He was unofficially directing traffic with his hands and kept a bag of his goods right below him in the middle of the road. Surprisingly, the cars were not honking as if this wasn’t the first time they have witnessed this. This reminded me of a conversation between my boss Patricia and my other employee, Mitchell. “Oh Trish, that black homeless guy was directing traffic again by Healthcare for the Homeless.”
The issue is deeper than we know
Who are these people without homes? Well here are some facts regarding the homeless that I learned. Many middle class Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless. According to the data, it is estimated that “between twenty-three and forty percent of homeless adults are veterans (St. Martins 1). From what I seen, I see many of the homeless dressed in uniform and wearing some sort of military hat or clothing. “One-third of adult homeless population has a severe or disabling mental illness (St. Martins 1).” Sadly this is evident by just observing Albuquerque and leaves a scare with many nurses when they can’t locate their clients to issue them their meds. Some end up in confrontation with police officers, which leaves them staying in jail. When that happens, our company doesn’t end up filling medications for those clients. Many end up homeless because of their mental illness’ and states cutting back on funding of psychiatric care.
It certainly gives you a different insight regarding who the homeless people may be. It may seem natural to feel distance from them because there are a lot of assumptions we make. One thing for sure is that it’s not fair to lump them all as lazy bums who can’t find work. One thing I learned is that these people need help and can’t help them due to mental illnesses and other diseases.
“Crimemapping” Crimemapping. TriTech Software Systems. 2016. Web. 4 December 2016.
Reynalds, Jeremy. “How Do You Feel when You see the Homeless With a Cell Phone?” JoyJunction. Joy Junction, 21 May 2016. Web. 4 December 2016
“Homelessness Facts.” St. Martin’s Hospitality Center. St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, 2016. Web. 3 December 2016.
“QuickFacts Albuquerque City, New Mexico.” United States Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau, 2016. Web. 3 December 2016.
“Climate Albuquerque (West).” U.S. climate data. U.S. climate data, 2016. Web. 3 December 2016.
“State Data and Contacts Map.” United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2015. Web. 4 December 2016.