Code violations at the old Westside jail prevent its use as an emergency summer sanctuary
Joy Junction is turning away between five and nine men every night, says Jeremy Reynalds, the shelter's founder and CEO. He says the economy is spitting out more folks than Joy Junction can take in. "We are seeing more people."
Reynalds contacted the city with a proposal: Let Joy Junction operate the Westside’s vacated county jail—already used in the winter as an emergency shelter—during these unusually busy summer months. Joy Junction would pick up homeless people in its van, which operates 24-7, and drive them to the temporary shelter at no cost to the city. "We told the city, As far as we know, you have the building sitting empty. If you give it to us, we'll use it and fill it with homeless people at our expense," Reynalds says.
But the city says the building may not be up to code—though it was housing around 200 people per night until mid-March.
Second Chance, a Scientology-based rehabilitation program, left the jail in January. "They had agreed to make some upgrades to the building," says Valerie Vigil, director of the city's Family and Community Services Department. When Second Chance left, the city sent code-enforcement officials in to have a look around. "It just made us aware that we probably should take a look at it before we house anybody." She says potential code violations could include the number of fire exits. Code officials will also be testing to see if the sprinkler system is working correctly.
“As far as we know, you have the building sitting empty. If you give it to us, we'll use it and fill it with homeless people at our expense.”
The empty jail has been operating as an emergency winter shelter for four or five years, Vigil estimates. The city contracts with the Albuquerque Rescue Mission to transport homeless people from mid-November until mid-March.
But it's the hot summer months that prove busy for Joy Junction. Kids are out of school, says Reynalds, and so families begin moving around. "It's an extremely busy time," he says. "Fortunately, we're not having to turn away women and families—yet."
Though Joy Junction is saying “no” to only a handful of single men each night, Reynalds suspects the need is greater than that. Word gets around, he says, and other homeless people may see their friends getting turned down by the shelter. "This is in no way representative of the entire need that's out there."
The city is in the process of identifying potential alternatives for a winter shelter, Vigil says. There are a couple of groups who've expressed interest in purchasing or leasing the old jail, she adds.
In the meantime, Reynalds says if someone will donate a building in an appropriately zoned area, Joy Junction will run a temporary facility to get the ever-increasing number of homeless people off of Albuquerque's streets at night.
Call Joy Junction at (800) 924-0569 if you need a ride to the shelter in its 24-hour pickup van. Even if space isn't available, the van carries snacks, bottled water and coffee. It also stops at Fourth Street and Roma every half-hour throughout the night to pick up inmates released from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center who don't have a place to stay.