Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series called “Homelessness in Albuquerque.” The series will continue in August.
Temperatures recorded at the Albuquerque International Sunport this summer maxed out at 103 degrees in June, posing a danger to the city’s homeless population.
Without regular and reliable opportunities to find air-conditioning, access to shade or regular hydration, the blistering heat of Albuquerque summers sends many homeless persons to emergency rooms with heat stroke and dehydration.
“The possibility of dehydration is always an issue during the summer months,” said Kathy Sotelo, the executive assistant at Joy Junction, a local shelter. “But nothing changes when the weather changes, only the conditions do.”
After their car was stolen in Albuquerque, Terra and her deaf husband Gary panhandle daily, despite the heat, in efforts to get Greyhound bus tickets back to their home in Nevada.
“We are out here in the heat,” Terra said. “There’s nothing else we can do.”
Terra and Gary avoid shelters and choose to find water at churches, the Econo-Lodge downtown or using a portion of the money they earn panhandling to buy bottled water.
“(The church and Lodge) are great about passing out water and stuff,” she said, but the shelters in Albuquerque are not a place she wants to spend time.
“The sooner we get back there, the better,” Terra said. “(Shelters in Albuquerque) are lot different than Nevada; they have much more resources than over here.”
Joy Junction is currently housing as many as 300 men, women and children nightly and serving three meals a day in their air-conditioned facility.
“People come to us with a variety of issues,” Solano said. “We do what we can. We do offer case management, and Health Care for the Homeless comes out two times a week. We aren’t a medical facility. We collaborate.”
Joy Junction encourages their staff to look for the signs of heat-related illness among people coming into the shelter off of the streets.
“We offer those with nowhere else to go a place out of the sun,” said Jeremy Reynolds, founder and CEO of Joy Junction.
Carolyn, a homeless woman from Texas who is staying at Joy Junction, takes the bus from the shelter into the city every day, and then waits for it to take her back to the shelter in the afternoon.
The bus picks people up every hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Iron Ave. SW between 2nd St. SW and 3rd St. SW.
“I do come out,” she said. “You get out here and you’re gonna sweat, so I go to the library, I go different places. I go to the library and read. I go to the park.”
Because she does not stay at the shelter during the day, Carolyn has to find other resources she can use to stay hydrated during the hottest parts of the day.
“I buy my own water,” she said. “They do come by and give out water at some places, but I’ve been buying my own water.”
A local ministry holds an outdoor service on Sundays, which Carolyn attends as a way to get out of the shelter and stay in the shade.
“On a Sunday we’ll have church down there at the park, and then the Dollar Tree is open, and I may run by there and pick up some soup or something, and then I’ll come back down (to the bus stop) and that’s what we do,” she said.
A local woman with a burrito truck also drives by the bus stop on Sundays and offers food and water to people waiting for the bus.
“On Sunday they have a burrito truck, and the lady pours her heart out, because she serves a buffet. It’s a buffet style and she has big burritos and sandwiches and big drinks,” Carolyn said. “A band also comes and plays music and gives out water, sometimes popsicles. I’ll listen to the band over here, and I might eat a burrito, and I might not. You know it’s just a blessing; people have been nice to me, there are people out here that do help, and you know the housing seems slow, but you’ve just got to wait.”
With high spirits and a hope of returning to work after receiving future medical care, Carolyn said she felt blessed.
“I’ve been under doctors’ care, so I can’t work right now,” she said. “I’m being blessed, I’ve been blessed a lot.”
Celia Raney is the news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Celia_Raney.