Thursday, August 9, 2012
Sunday Night on the Streets of Albuquerque
By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUEERQUE, N.M. (ANS) -- It had been a rough day physically. I just didn't feel good, but I figured one surefire way to feel better was to take my mind off how I felt and focus on the needs of others whom we would encounter that evening on Joy Junction’s regular street outreach.
It was 79 degrees as I pulled into our Downtown parking lot just before 9 p.m. and met up with Lisa Woodward, our transportation manager. The van was loaded with sack lunches and water.
We drove off. At our first location we found a number of people, including one man who exhibited many of the characteristics of mental illness. We gave him and a handful of other people beverages and sack lunches and drove south a bit.
We arrived at our next stop, where we found seven men again unable to find shelter for the night. One man had made a makeshift bed out of a plastic garbage bag he found on the street. Another guy put our empty soup box under his head, while someone else used an old jacket for a blanket.
No one else out there had covers or mats. They propped themselves against the wall and gazed at us plaintively.
Some slept with their shoes under their head. There was a good reason for that, Lisa (formerly homeless) told me. It was a theft prevention measure. If the shoes were of the slip on variety, she said, sleepers wouldn’t wake up if someone pulled them off while they were sleeping.
As we drove on Lisa reflected, “Downtown Albuquerque on the weekend. Nothing but trouble!”
We made our way to an abandoned building where we'd spotted an inebriated pair sleeping a couple of nights before. No one was there and no signs of their earlier presence remained. We stopped to get coffee.
We moved onto the heart of Downtown Albuquerque and fed about a half dozen people. One guy admitted he was homeless but said he didn't need a place to stay, because he had a place to camp. He looked very scared and not typically homeless. Lisa described him as “a victim waiting to happen.” That reminded me how I would feel if I suddenly became homeless again (I was homeless in the early 1980's). We talked about trying to find him again to see if we could help, but weren’t able to do so.
We drove over to the Fourth Street “Mall”, apparently now designated as a park, where “begging or soliciting is prohibited.” However, it was a pretty quiet night and no one was around. We moved on.
We made our way down a crazily busy Central Avenue, where partygoers were out in force. I wondered why any adults – others than those wanting to cause trouble – would want to go down there. It was loud, scary and somewhere from where I wanted to escape as soon as possible.
We stopped at a park and gave a number of lunches to grateful people (for whom the park would be home that night). One of them was hitching to Missouri, where he said there was work. He'd eaten little all day and was grateful for the food and encouragement.
As a couple of individuals passed by, Lisa encouraged me to return back quickly to the van. She identified them as a couple of drug dealers, well known in that area of town, with whom we had no wish to have an encounter.
While heading back to our parking lot we saw a young woman carrying a baby. I asked her if she was okay. She said she was. I had doubts, but there wasn’t much I could do. I breathed a quick prayer for the two of them, and a couple of minutes later we arrived. It was 11.45 and 77 degrees.
Lisa departed to check on a shelter driver and I headed back home. With the excitement of the evening’s outreach over, my stomach ache began to return. Apparently, there’s a stomach bug making the rounds. Oh well, I thought, as I cranked up the country music, this too shall pass.
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.