Editorial: Progressive Politics Must Include The Poor And Homeless

Progressive Politics Must Include The Poor And Homeless

August March
7 min read
Always With You
Clayton waits at Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless (Corey Yazzie)
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Driving in my fancy-clean new motor car along a road filled with other dinosaur juice gobbling vehicles mostly made from derivatives of that same saurian oil that powers the postmodern world—on my way to a very big, cool, well-lit room stocked nearly neck high with food of every imaginable type—I once again came to the conclusion that I am living in an illusion.

For how could such an Arcadian world exist when abject poverty hovers behind every well-appointed craft brewery counter, when poverty and homelessness have become as visibly common as the privileged goodness that fills media images and our own bourgeois experience of Albuquerque?

I’m sure you are reading this and wondering, “What the hell,
Carrillo, why aren’t you waxing poetic about the triumph of progressivism that came with the election of Tim Keller last November?” Well, partners, for right now that sense of hopeful accountability, that march forward, has been postponed by the utter despair I felt this week, staring down poverty in our little village by the river.

Believing compassionately that “the poor you will always have with you” is not enough. Moving quickly and with governmental certainty to take the edge off a perennial problem in the Albuquerque metropolitan area would prove a much more effective strategy, and that should just be the starting point of a committed and years-long endeavor to conquer or at least quell something that seems implacable when finally encountered.

The Keller administration has recently undertaken initiatives to improve the quality of life for Burqueños, to provide incentives for local businesses and in general to be more accountable and transparent than its predecessors. But much more work needs to be done to find adequate shelter, healthcare and educational opportunities for the ever flowing ranks of homeless human beings stationed at most every intersection of the city, making makeshift homes out of boxes at parks and on shady sidewalks in our city’s industrial zones.

As many homeless advocates have noted, the problem is a problem of access; access to affordable housing, healthcare and education would provide a means to really begin tackling a problem that’s haunted Burque for decades.

This past month, Keller and his representatives traveled to our big city neighbor to the east, San Antonio in
Tejas, to take a look at a homeless program called Haven for Hope—with the idea in mind that an expedition to Alamo City would yield ideas about how to ameliorate the near crisis of homelessness afflicting Duke City, New Mexico. While hizzoner told the media that the place offered some ideas and solutions to his team, he ultimately felt that the model used in the Texas city would not fit our town’s needs.

Keller also reported that “it also takes an attitude that says ‘We’re going to have to address homelessness’ not to just say that we hope it’ll go away.” That is a very good place to start.

Further, understanding the roots of the type of poverty that affect some of our most underprivileged and fragile citizens may be key to solving this age-old debacle. In fact, working towards solutions for the factors that shape endemic poverty may result in a stronger, more aware and progressive community where community policing and crime have all but waned as all citizens are treated with dignity and equality.

The Root of Homelessness

This morning I traveled with
Alibi photographer Corey Yazzie to some of the more prominent homeless sites in Dirt City. First we stopped by ghetto Smith’s on the corner of Yale Boulevard and Coal Avenue. There, at the edge of the parking lot, a homeless woman has been camping out near the bus stop. She wasn’t there early Tuesday, but she had left behind a pillow, a blanket and about 14 paper bags filled with her worldly possessions.

A few yards away, a companion of hers dug donuts out of the garbage can near the store entrance. As he happily ate a trashed chocolate Bismarck, the man told me he didn’t want his picture taken; he was certain I was the police, or worse yet an alien entity sent to harm him. I backed off quickly as he finished his breakfast and loped away toward the university.

So we drove on, toward Downtown. Turning onto Mountain from Broadway, I noticed each intersection was occupied by a panhandler. Further, as we approached First Street, I noticed many humans gathered at Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless. I thought about stopping there, but instead drove out to the freeway, where there is a homeless enclave near the overpass on Third Street. The dozen or so there were wary, frightened at the prospect of having their stories told, their pictures recorded. I decided to return to First Street.

In front of Healthcare for the Homeless, a large group of the organization’s clients sunned themselves and waited for attention. Administrators came and went, concerned, cajoling, directly involved in trying to stop poverty in its dread tracks.

One young man, Clayton, agreed to have his picture taken. He seemed tired and disheveled but his eyes demonstrated intelligence and interest when I told him what I was about, what I was up to there.

After Clayton had his picture taken, we spoke with him a bit. He wanted to work, he wanted a place to live. He wasn’t sure how he got to Albuquerque, how long he had been here.

Just then one of the site administrators came to speak with us. Anita F. Córdova is the director of development, planning and evaluation for the organization. She has been working on the problem of homelessness for 13 years, a native Burqueña committed to making things in the city better for the homeless and, ultimately, for all.

She said that, “This is about what happens when you don’t have access to a living wage and healthcare.” Asked if the homeless problem in the city has gotten worse in the past few years, Córdova offered a broad perspective on the problem, noting, “It looks, visibly, like there are more people out and about, but the numbers don’t seem to change. I think that’s because this is a cyclical problem. People fall in and out of homelessness. It all begins with affordable housing options. Any personal vulnerability that happens to an individual can also affect a housing situation. It definitely hasn’t gotten better. Homelessness continues to be a big issue in our community.”

Despite these continual issues with poverty and consequently homelessness, Córdova says that recent city/county partnerships have been instrumental in increasing accessibility to essential human services for the downtrodden and dispossessed, adding “It’s more about access issues than it is about a lack of services. In the past two years, we’ve seen a real investment from the city and the county. That’s a very positive thing.”

In the meantime, Córdova stresses that her organization and the city are working on plans to get more people to the services her organization provides and to find ways to “make the services nimble enough to be the most effective.”

It turns out that my mood brightened after what I had seen and heard on the streets of Burque on the last day of July 2018. There are huge problems confronting us now; one of them takes the form of other humans who have been ground down by the fray. They are everywhere here. But among them dwell a class of Burqueños—it turns out that they are all around too—that are committed to not only bringing that issue to the light, but also to finding workable solutions to a sort of trouble that goes on and on.
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