Compassion: Today, Tomorrow and the Future
As the days get colder with the winter solstice nearing and the holidays right around the corner, for most people this is a time to come together with our families to share love and laughter.However, for some of our Native relatives here in Albuquerque facing homelessness, there will be no gathering around an ornamented tree or opening of gifts. This holiday season their minds will always be pondering if they will have a warm bed to sleep in tonight, when their next meal will be, or if they will see the dawn of another day.
For me, the word I most associate with this time of giving is compassion. What does it really mean to be compassionate? Earlier this week, I witnessed compassion in action. As I drove to work on a teeth chattering morning, I pulled up to a stoplight and notice a police unit with its red and blue’s flashing. I have made this drive over a hundred times, at this particular spot (an overpass), you can witness the homeless taking shelter to try and keep warm or rounding up change to get a cup of hot coffee. So, my first thought was, I hope this cop is not citing this guy as he’s asking for donations. As I drove closer, what I saw warmed my heart and made me smile from within. The police officer handed the guy, who was standing on the corner, a bag of food and a hot cup of coffee. At that moment, all I wanted to do was give the officer a fist bump, a high-five, a hug, something (kudos to him).
After doing a little research and reading more about the circumstances that the homeless Native population here in Albuquerque may face, there were two questions that kept reoccurring: why are there so many of our Native relatives living on the streets? And, why are Native homeless more prone to violent attacks and sexual assaults?
Instead of just reading articles and my usual online research, I decided to dig deeper. The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, where I am the Membership and Outreach Coordinator, recently teamed up with First Nations Community Healthsource’s Homeless Outreach Program to partner in efforts to bring awareness to this disproportionate epidemic that has infected our Native relatives. Out of whim and with luck on my side, I got in touch with First Nation’s Lead Homeless Outreach Case Manager and Tribal Liaison to the City of Albuquerque, Dawn Begay.
Here is a brief overview of statistics (very little), Native Americans or Alaska Natives make up 15% of the homeless population in Bernalillo County, and the same percentage goes for the City of Albuquerque. Those 15% use around 20% of services geared toward helping homeless outreach initiatives (mostly shelters).
In my phone interview with Ms. Begay, those two reoccurring questions still lingered in the back of my mind. Without thinking twice, my questions to Dawn were, why are there so many of our homeless Native relatives on the streets and why are they more predisposed to to violent attacks? Unfortunately, Native people are often affected by “intergenerational trauma”. Trauma that our ancestors faced hundreds of years ago, dispositions such as, termination, isolation, mendacities, imprisonment, and diseases that still plague today’s tribal people, communities and Nations. Seeking a brighter future, many Native people move to a fast pace metropolis not knowing what to expect, and unconsciously bringing with them this trauma embedded deep within. To add fuel to the fire, if moving to an unknown environment isn’t bad enough, Native Americans face culture change (culture shock) and identity change, which may make them feel displaced or shame.
In the city of Albuquerque, there are far and few (if any) culturally appropriate programs specifically for the Native population. Westernized medicine lacks knowledge, is distrusted, and because of systems barriers and lack of cultural connections for our urban Native relatives, Ms. Begay said “there are more barriers working against you rather than for you”.
With so many barricades to breakthrough, the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women decided to alleviate some of those to show we value our Native community in Albuquerque. We are conducting a winter coat/apparel drive for our less fortunate Native relatives, which started the beginning of December and runs through December twenty-ninth. If you are more hands on and want to help, CSVANW will be serving a hot meal at this month’s luncheon at First Nation’s on December thirtieth, which is open to the community. One of our operational values here at the coalition is to honor and value service to our community and to our people.