How Albuquerque Fights Homelessness

Despite knowing better we all too quickly determine that the homeless population has earned itself its fate—addiction, bad decisions, laziness, etc. This serves as a coping mechanism of sorts to then justify our own indifference towards these marginalized groups, who if we spoke to we would be quick to learn and understand that no, in fact, addiction is a health problem, not a criminal act, that they found themselves in a system where circumstances made decisions a lot harder than we would normally acknowledge, and that no, these people are not lazy, but are desperate for work, for livelihood, just like any one of us. But most of us don’t take the time to interact with or make a legitimate effort to understand their strife; but one mayor has found a way to actively combat the stigma and produce results.

Enter Richard Berry, mayor of the city of Albuquerque. The history of the mayor is interesting enough, as he was the first Republican mayor of the city in New Mexico in over 30 years, a city otherwise largely dominated by Democrats. Mayor Richard Berry, as a recent piece in the Washington Post explains, drove around the city talking with homeless people to try to understand their strife and better craft legislative solutions that would ultimately serve this population. One key aspect of his approach was that instead of assuming that these individuals didn’t want to work and were stuck in a rut of laziness, the mayor instead asked them about work and their willingness to find it. The issue was, they were having difficulty going to work, and as such, Mayor Berry had the idea of bringing work to them.

The city sends out a van to pick up homeless individuals interested in work, finds them day jobs—such as clearing litter and weeds—pays them over minimum wage, at $9-per-hour, offers lunch, and then provides overnight shelter. Many people have been able to thereby find permanent employment through connections made in the program, as well as doing communal good for society.

There has in recent years been a frightening surge in the criminalization of homelessness. Some measures have been characterized as outright brutal, such as the introduction of metal spikes on public spaces like outside buildings, or unnecessary arms on park benches to prevent sleeping, all falling under the category of “defensive architecture.” And these measures are not excluded to a legislative and private company effort to make life more difficult for homeless populations, but are entirely reflective of the sort of attitude and culture we have been harboring and brewing in our society, as hate crimes against homeless people skyrocket.

The simple idea behind Mayor Berry’s initiative is to first and foremost acknowledge their plight. Bring work to them, upon realizing that most generalizations about homeless people are farfetched and false. And we must acknowledge that it may be more difficult to get a job when one doesn’t have a regular mailing address, a reliable phone at which they can be contacted, the means to keep and present a socially neat appearance, a lack of transportation, poor credit scores, major gaps on resumes if they have one, etc. All of these day-to-day realities make the acquisition and retention of employment significantly more challenging than for nearly any other class of people, who have been afforded these necessities through one means or another.

But jumpstarting their job opportunities through public service, especially when they are appropriately compensated for their work and given food, shelter, and the ability to network and branch out to explore new opportunities is a necessary first step that cities should begin to consider. As always, however, much of the grunt work to be done must manifest from the bottom-up, focusing on shifting our own deeply ingrained societal expectations and attitudes when it comes to one of the most vulnerable populations, a cosmic fate of sorts that could have been doled out to any one of us if the particular circumstances presented themselves to us as they did to them.

This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine. 

5 Comments on How Albuquerque Fights Homelessness

  1. Gee, it’s almost like the New Deal works.


  2. Natalie Windt // August 19, 2016 at 4:30 am // Reply

    I am on social security and housing assistance. The entire program is designed to keep a person isolated and alone. Out of work and living in a single state. Why? Isolation, as I have been taught, kills your dreams, kills your hopes, and a lack of work kills you sense of purpose. If I didn’t actively pursue things as I do, like education, volunteer work, etc, I would be dead. I have epilepsy, cognitive disorders, bodily issues do to meds. But I am working my way up the ladder to speak on behalf of this bullshit. We are all responsible for each other. New Mexico I am not surprised is getting it right. They are a beautiful state.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know if it’s designed that way or if it’s a happy accident, but the reason why the system remains the way it is is precisely because it allows the marginalization of the poor.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Natalie Windt // August 20, 2016 at 10:39 pm //

        You know what’s funny, I think they really put the wrong person on it. As I get out of the institutionalized frame of mind, I find I am getting ready to strike out at several fundamentally flawed instances. Like when their irresponsible doctor on duty nearly drove me to suicide with his accusations during a manic phase of my illness. He was doing a review of my ssi and I was showing my medication. He began to throw accusations at me that I wasn’t doing this or that. He was cold and insensitive. I began to pick and bleed from my arm, which he didn’t even notice. Then I went home in such a state of illness I was ready to die because he was such a bully. Social Security freaked out after what happened because they realized how irresponsible HE HAD BEEN. Now I realize how irresponsible the entire system is. Especially me. Because I am not as unmanageable as I thought. And as I get better, I can talk about what I saw. Whoops, I did make really shitty choices, and am and always will be willing to pay for them. But also pay back advice as to how to make this system better if they really want our economy not to go down the shitter. I will tell anyone who is willing to listen. The right people. I love this country. And I am lucky because I see, it really does take a village to either burn one down, or build one back up.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Systems need to account for failure. The entire cult of a harsh, anti-human value system that Tim Wise has discussed is of course always inconsistent: we’re always willing to tolerate men like Trump who were bailed out repeatedly by their daddies and by abusing bankruptcy laws. It’s easy to believe in harsh discipline until it’s your kid facing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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