Since August of 2022, the locally produced YouTube series “Pick Up New Mexico” has been slowly adding content to its channel. Comedian Isiah Yazzie hosts the humorous talk/news show, which focuses on state politics. “If politics pisses you off, we pick you up!” is the show’s motto. With the State Legislature in session, the show has organized its biggest streaming event to date. Yazzie reached out and invited state leaders to spend the night sleeping on the streets of Albuquerque in a tent with him in order to shine a light on the homeless situation in our state. State Senator Harold Pope Jr. and State Representative Eleanor Chavez agreed to participate. The first two hours of the event were streamed live on Facebook this past Saturday, Jan. 21.
“Our intention with ‘A Night on the Street with State Leaders’ is to bring attention to the homeless population living on the streets of New Mexican cities and towns, and how we as a community are dealing with it,” said the show’s producer, Harry Gantz. “It is an opportunity for these state leaders to interact with service providers, the homeless population, advocates, even business owners.” Gantz described the night as “a kind of street committee hearing intended to engage our leaders, and the larger community online, to the homeless population and the people and organizations that serve them.”
“I agreed to participate in ‘A Night on the Streets’ for many reasons,” said Eleanor Chavez—who represents House District 26, covering much of Albuquerque’s West Side. “The unhoused population in Albuquerque has increased, and I think we need to know who the people are who we pass by every day. They are someone’s child who I am sure didn’t plan on ending up living on the street when they grew up.”
Albuquerque has struggled recently, in dealing with homelessness. Plans for an Emergency Housing Program and Engagement Center at the long-proposed Gateway Center on Gibson continue to move slowly thanks to neighborhood opposition. Safe overnight camping areas have become another controversial solution after the clearance and closure of Downtown Albuquerque’s Coronado Park. While politicians debate and neighborhood associations protest, our city’s homeless population continues to grow.
In the lead-up to the long wintry night, Chavez discussed her plans for her evening of street camping, saying, “I want to sit and hear from unhoused folks, about how they became homeless. And I really want to hear what they think are the solutions that would help. I think the City is doing some good work to try to address the problem, but what are we missing? What else can we be doing? I want to know how we as lawmakers can work to change the conditions that create unhoused people.”
In addition to talking to those folks living rough on the streets of Downtown, Chavez also expressed a hope to hear from providers to learn “what resources would make it easier to provide services.” Over the course of the two-hour live broadcast on YouTube, Chavez, Pope and Yazzie participated in a roundtable discussion with a string of people connected to New Mexico’s unhoused populations. Among the people who passed through the tent flaps that night were Pamela Acosta (senior manager at Bernalillo County’s Office of Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health Initiatives), Carol Pierce (director of Family and Community Services with the City of Albuquerque), Jodie Jepson (executive director of StreetConnect) and Shane Rabindranath (executive diretcor of Steelbridge Ministry). Together they discussed a number of topics, including the rise in homeless teenagers, job programs, drug rehabilitation and our city’s lack of housing in general.
Ultimately, Chavez admitted her one night out on the street doesn’t compare to the unhoused people who spend every night on Albuquerque’s streets. “It will be cold and, oh, how I hate the cold,” she said while waiting for the streaming event to begin. “But besides trying to keep warm, I have lots of other questions: How do you keep clean, what happens when you are sick, where do you use the bathroom, what are the dangers? What are their dreams and fears? What help do they need?”
“There has been so much debate in the ABQ city and state government around homelessness,” said Gantz, who hopes “A Night on the Streets” will allow him to repeat this experiment in other cities in future episodes of “Pick Up New Mexico.”
For Gantz, “This event goes beyond politics and takes an approach that highlights the humanity of those involved and solutions in which we all take a vested interest in solving homelessness,” On Monday, Chavez and Pope took their experience and the words of the people they spoke to back to the Legislature in Santa Fe. What our lawmakers choose to do with this information remains to be seen. For now, though, the producer of “Pick Up New Mexico” is just hoping viewers watch “A Night on the Streets With State Leaders” and that it will “shine a light on our homeless citizens with compassion, understanding, and strategies from those on the ground to help eradicate homelessness.”
You can visit the “Pick Up New Mexico” page on YouTube by going to youtube.com/@pickupnewmexico9318. The streaming video of “A Night on the Street With State Leaders” is still available.