Dealing with and finding solutions for the problems that plague the city of Albuquerque is no easy task. Even with a progressive municipal government and a Governor and legislature that listen and respond to the pressing needs of this last-
Among the most pressing problems affecting people in the city: drug addiction and homelessness. Previously treated with punitive measures, such circumstances and the predicaments that arise from chronic poverty and drug use are now being looked at as public health issues. These issues, once thought unsolvable, have come to the forefront in the progressive quest to improve quality of life for Burqueños.
One such example of grassroots action aimed at betterment is the Albuquerque Center for Hope and Recovery. The nonprofit—which specializes in peer support while also providing a needed link to services like addiction treatment, vocational rehabilitation, job coaching, counseling, affordable housing options and social recovery—has been in operation since 2001, when it was known as the Albuquerque Drop-In Center, a recovery environment run by certified Peer Support Workers.
In 2010 the organization transitioned into the Albuquerque Center for Hope and Recovery. Since then, the organization has continued with its mission, supplemented by federal approval to work with the Social Security Administration, as well as funding from the city and county.
Weekly Alibi reached out to ACHR to learn more about their program and progress. We met with three folks from the organization: Mikayla Trujillo-Baxter, Certified Peer Support Specialist; Donato Velasco, Peer Support Worker; and Christina Barros, an ACHR client and job seeker. Here are some highlights from that hopeful meeting.
Weekly Alibi: Please tell our readers about the Albuquerque Center for Hope and Recovery.
Mikayla Trujillo-Baxter: Albuquerque Center for Hope and Recovery is a long-standing nonprofit that is peer run. We assist members of the community who identify with either mental health or substance abuse issues with experiencing positive life change. We do this by using our own life experience. Everyone on the staff has had some sort of experience or vicariously lived experience with mental health or substance use issues. That qualifies us for providing a survival guide for these issues.
How do you all do your day to day business in Burque?
We are funded through multiple avenues. We have a large grant from the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Initiative, which does provide us two satellite offices in the South Valley and Westside communities.
Did taking part in that Bernalillo County initiative help you deliver your services to the community?
Yes. We were one of the first recipients of the grant and that really allowed us to expand the reach of our work to incorporate the underserved areas of the South Valley and the far West areas of town—like the Unser and Central area—too.
How does you organization work with root issues like homelessness, endemic poverty and drug addiction to solve greater societal problems?
There are baseline and crisis issues in our community and we address them in a multitude of ways. We have the UNM Pathways program, which assists members with navigating through housing agencies that can provide affordable housing. While doing so, they have an advocate by their side, a community health worker.
Tell me more.
We do lots of outreach, too. We do community outreach, we do organizational outreach, networking with other peer-run organizations. We also have the Addicts to Athletes program, which is a physical fitness program with an hour of cognitive behavioral therapy included in each session. That program has had tremendous results.
How do people get involved with healing programs like that?
We’re a peer-run drop in center. You don’t need a referral to work with us. You can access our services at any time. If we’re unable to meet at the exact moment you contact us, we usually have a 24-hour window and can meet with clients the next day. You absolutely don’t have to identify with mental illness or addiction, but you must have the desire to improve.
What’s the history of your program?
We started as the sole peer drop-in center or club house in Albuquerque. It was an alternative to NA [Narcotics Anonymous] and AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings. Three guys got together to say that those programs weren’t working for them, but talking to each other did. They got together to create, provide and maintain a safe, positive and healthy environment, where one can focus on goals and think about the future.
What other sorts of services do you provide to your clients?
We’re absolutely peer-run, so we’re under no clinical supervision. We make no diagnoses, give out no prescriptions. There are no social workers employed currently on our staff. Every person that works for us has some sort of relevant experience with mental health issues or drug addiction.
So you’re like a gateway, an agency that provides a hook-up to resources and providers, que no?
Absolutely. We bridge the gap.
That can be a huge gap to bridge with people that have lost their agency. Christina, how does the program bridge the gap? How does it help you?
Christina Barros: I started with this program, probably over a year ago, more like 14 months. I was released, out of prison and I went straight to the Albuquerque Center for Hope and Recovery. She [Mikayla] got me started with job development, which is how I got my first job when I was released. I was worried about not being able to find a job because I am a felon.
Did the prison system provide any vocational rehabilitation or mental health services?
They did offer some type of programs, they had peer support, too, in the prison. So I did have some opportunities but I didn’t really reach out for them until I was in Albuquerque.
Once you reached out to ACHR, what happened next?
I got a job at McDonald’s. I became manager after three weeks there.
And ACHR was part of that success story?
Yeah, Mikayla’s the one that helped me with job development. I got the resume together using the job development program, she helped me get the application done, too. She helped set up the interviews and stuff. She was there to push me, to tell me that I can get a job. They have a list of places I could have applied to other than McDonald’s and I stayed there for about a year. When I wanted to move forward, I asked Mikayla to help me update my resume. We did. I went to a company in the medical field and got the job. I’ve had a new job for 6 months now. I do go to counseling once a month, and if I need more resources, she helps me get them.
Mikalya, how do you feel about successes like this?
Mikayla Trujillo-Baxter: ACHR was built on job development. Many generations before me, my [original] predecessor, the executive director, was a job developer. He met people at Starbucks in order to help them overcome problem areas. We’ve had a lot of luck with job development. We’ve created many avenues to support it. For instance, we have active contracts with DVR [the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation] to provide situational work assessments of those who are disabled to get them back in the workforce. We also have an entire employment empowerment curriculum that is designed to help people overcome barriers that stand between them and rewarding employment. The class meets for one hour per week for six weeks. We address basic issues in the curriculum including building a thorough job skills checklist. We also learn to demonstrate the skills we’ve each identified as well as addressing issues like creating effective cover letters and similar job-related matters.
And where do all of the things we’ve discussed take place?
We have access to any of the educational equipment available at our two satellite locations. We’re at the Westside Community Center in the South Valley and we’re also at the Unser Library on Unser and Central. Also, we have our little brown casita of hope at 913 Second Street SW. That’s our original base camp.
And anyone can drop in during regular business hours to start improving their life, to start finding solutions to the things that are keeping them down?
Why is this program important?
It’s an added layer of support, as Christina told you. The relation and compassion [by peer counselors] of what you’re going through. It’s that little bit of push, that hope. Then, they get the job, they choose life.