By Gemma Parkview
Editor’s Note: For the purpose of maintaining the original voice and language of the author, Two Way Street’s Editorial Team has not made any substantive revisions to this piece, but only technical revisions.
I started volunteering for Two Way Street (2017) after I saw a local news broadcast with the then Editorin-Chief Jeffrey Hertz and how he was creating and executing his thesis to help displaced members of our community with self-worth, employment, all while improving economic development of our community. I had to reach out and get in contact with Two Way Street.
Let me introduce myself properly. My name is Gemma Parkview, I am a full-time student at Full Sail University, studying Media Communications for a Bachelors in Science. I was inspired to go back to school by the notorious creator of gonzo journalism, Hunter S.Thompson. Now a little bit more of my history: My mother died in 1999, and in 2000 I walked away from my life not knowing how to cope or grieve for my mother’s death. I decided to be homeless with a very bad drug addiction, living in the streets in an area known as the ‘War Zone’ or the ‘International District.’ A former lover of mine told me one day, “I can take you out of the ‘hood, but can’t take the hood out of you.” I never understood what that meant. Now I relate and understand that being in the street, it is hard to get out; when we get off the street it is hard to stay away from the street. I go back every now and again.
I decided to go back to the street to ask how others feel about homelessness – both from the viewpoint of displaced members of our community and the viewpoint of established members of our community.
My journey started at a local soup kitchen. I have to give kudos to the volunteers and the cooks for their time and the delicious meals that were provided for us. I was talking to everyone and asking them their story about how they ended up in the position they were in. I sat down at a table with my lunch and a gentleman sat down next to me. I must be honest, he did not disclose his name to me, he decided to vent to me. He was wearing a long brown coat, had bright blue eyes and a full beard. Our conversation started with him saying “ I came here to New Mexico two years ago. I was born in California, passing through on my way to visit family members in Texas. I was pulled over for no insurance. I did not have insurance for months, registration expired for months and I was arrested, car towed to the bone yard.” I replied, “Why haven’t you left to go home yet?” He said “To be honest, I was in jail, I believe almost 94 days, a day or two less or a day or two more. When I was released I was dropped off downtown, my vehicle was towed with my phone that had my contacts in it, my wallet with my drivers license inside of it. After my release, I asked businesses and people to help locate my vehicle so I could obtain my property. No one would help me and there are no pay phones or a public phone anywhere to help with that stuff. After six months I gave up.”
I asked him “What would benefit you the most to get back on track?”He replied, “If I could get my birth certificate from California, I could get an identification card, get food stamps, stop panhandling, and possibly find my way back home.”
I went back home in the morning and scheduled an interview with an established member of the community. The established member works at the hospital and has been to school for many things and also IT support. I started by asking the thoughts they had about panhandling in Albuquerque. Their response was “I do not understand why people panhandle underneath a sign by the exit of a freeway with a blue and white sign that says ‘call 311 for shelter, work and service.’ Why don’t they use that resource?”
That statement left me intrigued, so I decided to call 311. The operator referred me to a street downtown where there would be a bus that would pick me up. I waited outside the address that was given to me for several hours. The van picked up a group of us and dropped us off at the establishment; we formed a line and had our property searched.
It took another couple of hours until I was able to talk to an attendant, my empathy goes out to them because it was apparent that help was needed. I was asked several questions. I answered real simple and was told to that I was to sleep underneath the security window.
I asked “Why”? The attendant answered, “It would be safer for you because this is your first time here, and after our classification process, be careful. If you have a cell phone, watch it, or anything else you have of value.” I was then directed outside and told to wait for my number to be called.
I went outside and felt like i was in high school all over again and was treated like an outsider, most people did not talk to me. I went to the restroom and put my phone down to wash my hands, lo and behold, it was stolen. I went to find a phone with internet or to borrow a phone to locate it. Unfortunately, I was looked at with disdain and realized that I sounded like a pansy ass. I was so embarrassed to ask for this amenity. I was warned and should have taken better care of the phone, so when I asked to borrow the house phone I was told to put my name on the list and that the phone is not available until 6am. I told myself I was there to take in the whole experience so that way I could share it with others, a reality check about how difficult things are without a support system or resources. I sucked it up and my number was called. I was given a mat, a bedroll, and told to set up underneath the security window. I was a little nervous, but continued to make my bed, write in my notebook, then read myself to sleep.
A gentleman who is in the program woke me early in the morning and said, “Security told me to tell you how things go around here in the morning.” “Thank you,” I responded. He then said, “Take a shower before the women and children wake up, put your bed roll over there.” He pointed to the corner of the vestibule while telling me what time breakfast is served and when the shuttle will make its drops into town.
Once again I gave my thanks and continued to follow the directions that were given to me. While I was awaiting breakfast I decided to mingle with the women with children. I talked to them while they bathed and dressed the children. A majority of them their husbands were incarcerated, others their husbands deported, some of them hiding from domestic violence situations. None of the women had identification, social security cards, birth certificates for the babies or themselves. Women who were born in New Mexico did not have an address to have their Social Security card, SNAP benefit card, or their driver’s license mailed.
A woman who was in the restroom while we were sharingour experiences claimed that she had her driver’s license stolen straight from her mailbox before she was displaced and lost her home. A woman dressing her three young boys said that she and her family are from another state and lost everything when her husband went to jail. She cannot get any assistance and it’s even harder to obtain documents needed because she was born in another state. My heart went out to her and the tribulations she was going through. We heard that breakfast was ready, so our congregation separated while we made our way to eat breakfast. I give thanks for the people who cooked breakfast for us that day and everyday! It was delicious as well as very nutritious.
What impressed me and felt so good was to see that the women with children were taken care of first and treated with respect. It is so honorable that this establishment’s volunteers and employees are helping so many people with what they have, and making it work to benefit others in our community.
I was deep inside my own thoughts about my experience when I heard the shuttle driver announce it was time to depart. We loaded ourselves onto the shuttle and were dropped off into town. What now? Where would I go if I had no place to go? What do I do? What is your viewpoint?