COMMENTARY: City Councilor Trudy Jones is a determined woman. Her determination is laser focused on panhandling — a common sight all over Albuquerque.
She’s working on a public safety and median ordinance, which if ready will be heard by the next city business and finance committee meeting in early September. If successful, it would then go to the city council, where its passage would have a huge impact on panhandling and other forms of solicitation.
In a recent meeting with Joy Junction staff, Jones said, “We can only help people who want to be helped, and we cannot allow this to keep degrading our city. … We have to take our streets back. We have to… retake control of our city, and if that means they go to Tucson, or Phoenix, or Dallas, or Colorado where the drugs are cheaper, so be it.”
A call to the mayor’s office in Denver for comment was not immediately returned.
When asked their opinion on this proposed ordinance, a few Joy Junction guests were quick to respond with dire consequences if it becomes law. They said that drug addicts or alcoholics are going to satisfy their habit one way or the other, and if panhandling is declared illegal they will resort to stealing, robbing and shoplifting. People then start getting hurt.
Others said that, unfortunately, many panhandlers do get arrested, which in turn puts them in the legal system and also overcrowds the jail. They added that if you allow the community to help the homeless with a hand out every now and then, it in turn benefits local government by keeping the homeless out of the system or jail.
Joy Junction also hit the streets recently to see what a few panhandlers thought about Jones’ proposal.
One man who appeared to be in his mid-60s said he doesn’t know what he’ll do if Jones’ proposal is successful. He added that he has a heart condition preventing him from working and currently lives in his car.
Another man in his early 60s was clean, dressed well, and well-spoken. He said his house had been broken into during an extended hospital stay, and his landlord kicked him out because he was unable to pay for repairs needed to the house after the break-in. He’s panhandling because of his current situation, and said he would keep doing it — illegal or not. He is expecting a government disability check soon.
A woman, 51, said she has medical conditions that don’t allow her to work, and while her kids help her when they can, they also have limited income. She is working on being declared officially disabled so she can start the long process to collect benefits.
She added that she’s been on a housing waiting list for eight months, and feels she’s at the bottom of the list because of the lack of official disability.
If panhandling is declared illegal, she would quit because she doesn’t want to break the law. She added that she would probably end up dying.
While I understand there need to be some workable solutions to the panhandling issue, kicking the homeless issue out of town is not the answer.
City residents need to understand that this is not just a government issue. The responsibility falls on all of us, and there needs to be a community conversation — not just a ‘not in my backyard’ response. We’d like to keep them alive so they can get help.
There also needs to be a larger detox center than the one currently available to help alleviate some of the problem.
Jeremy Reynalds is founder and CEO of Joy Junction Inc., a faith-based nonprofit church organization dedicated to helping homeless men, women, children, and families in Albuquerque by providing food, clothing, shelter, and safety. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? NMPolitics.net welcomes your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.