I read with compassion the recent New Mexican story (“A reminder of homelessness at mayor’s door as he tackles issue,” Feb. 23): “As [Mayor Alan] Webber grapples with homelessness in Santa Fe, homeless man lands at his doorstep.”
I had compassion for Tracy Lee, who obviously struggles with mental illness and has no place to go, even if it’s in his own mind; for Celeste Valentine and The Life Link workers, who tried to get him help, only to find that helping someone who doesn’t want it can be heartbreakingly frustrating; for Mayor Webber, who is trying to find a solution to the complex social issue of homelessness and who, no doubt, learned a valuable lesson about the difficulties inherent in the problem; and, finally, for the Santa Fe police officers who were just doing their jobs in taking Lee into custody when they realized he had an outstanding warrant in Albuquerque.
It did not surprise me that Lee ended up in jail and then back on the streets in Albuquerque. His alleged crime? Disorderly conduct. I suspect his mental health issues played a role in his original arrest. The Bernalillo County Detention Center is the second-largest mental health facility in New Mexico.
The Santa Fe County jail and the Interfaith Community Shelter are two other de facto mental health facilities in Santa Fe. That so many mentally ill individuals end up in jail speaks to the vast need for adequate mental health services, not just in New Mexico but across the country.
Compassion is a mantra that I speak about daily to the employees at the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place. People experiencing homelessness are just like you and me. There is no “them” and “us.”
Homelessness is not a person, it is a condition and, as I like to remind people, the line is thin. There but for the grace of God go I. The trauma that most often precedes homelessness is all too real, and it is indiscriminate.
We can afford to learn from our military: We are a “Band of Brothers and Sisters” and should not leave our wounded behind, nor blame them for being wounded. Compassion is where the solution begins.