This last July, a man was found walking along Old Route 66, which, in itself, is not an unusual event. What is unique, is that the man had no name—at least, not one that he could remember. When "John Doe" was found he was dehydrated, starving and had total amnesia.
Over time, and with the help from the Street Outreach Team at Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, Mr. Doe began to discover things about himself—he liked red beans and rice, he could perform mathematical square roots in his head, and he knew four languages. Eventually (it's a long story, but we'll cut to the chase), the SOS team was eventually able to find out the man's identity, and send him back home to New Orleans, where his family recognized his picture on a local television station.
Kara Kellogg, a social worker, case manager David Miranda, and Christine Ponce, a UNM Psychiatric Clinic case manager, are the three folks that make up the Street Outreach Services team, and "John Doe's" story is a good example of the work they do. Every week, they scour the city—going to the foothills to find tent sites and around town to search for the displaced, trying to offer aid to the homeless.
Driving around in their white agency van, they carry blankets, socks, food, water and a wealth of information about assistance services. The team, one of several AHCH outreach programs, is a collaboration with the UNM Psychiatric Clinic, and works with many other organizations around town. They are, for many, the gateway to all of the services that exist for the homeless, from finding housing and counseling, to getting medication for those who need it. And they are persistent advocates, staying with their clients through every step on the road to recovery.
The team was formed two-and-a-half years ago when a federal grant for the program was approved by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Although the three team members all come from different backgrounds, the one common thread they share is their passion for helping others. David joined SOS at its conception, after previously working at Healthcare for the Homeless' children's outreach service program for three years. Kara came to the program looking for a career change, after working as a civil litigation attorney for 15 years in Albuquerque. And Christine has worked for years with the mentally ill at the UNM Psychiatric Clinic.
SOS is a quiet force in Albuquerque, but it is also a strong one. It is a service that requires both dedication and humility, and one that has a profound effect on the lives of hundreds of people. Kara, David and Christine see a lot of tragedy in their job, and they hear a lot of "long stories" about how the homeless got to be where they are. Many, they say, have a rough time returning to society because of mental illnesses like schizophrenia or because of addiction. Yet, they also gain inspiration from the people they meet.
"These clients are some of the most complicated, funny, unpredictable, rascally, tragic, strong people you'd ever want to meet," says Kara, "It makes them very challenging to work with, but it's also a gift." If you think that someone in your area might be homeless, or you are homeless yourself and would like to be linked with resources, please call the SOS team, 907-0063. (CC)