Steady snow fall left a large group of Albuquerque’s vulnerable homeless population out in the cold Tuesday, after hundreds were bussed downtown for meal service miles away from the city’s winter shelter.
More than 300 people attended a lunch meal service at the Rock at Noon Day Ministry site on Second Street near I-40 Tuesday.
But following that meal service, hundreds of those who took part faced the reality of spending hours outside waiting for a bus back to the shelter, despite the falling snow and freezing temperatures.
“We’re dealing with a life and death situation,” said Danny Whatley, director of the Rock at NoonDay Ministry.
Whatley expressed frustration with the scenario Tuesday afternoon, feeling that the shuttle buses back to the westside shelter should have accounted for the inclement weather.
Instead, the city-funded service that runs the shuttles was still planning on its first pick-ups arriving at the nearby Coronado Park at their regularly scheduled time of 5 p.m.
“I think it was very short sighted on the part of the city to not realize that this was going to be a problem, they took care of all the traffic issues, they were sanding the road, they were doing everything else,” said Whatley.
Tuesday started with the normal shuttle service run by the “Heading Home” program, which left the city’s westside shelter for the lunch meal. Whatley estimates about 350 homeless men and women took part in the meal service.
But despite the snowy weather, Whatley says the city didn’t add any extra shuttles or early shuttles back to the shelter.
“Their option was go stand at the Coronado park for the next four hours,” said Whatley.
In response, Noon Day opted to keep its shelter open late Tuesday to keep people out of the snow while shuttles buses ran back and forth between the westside shelter, which Whatley says in dry weather usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get to from downtown Albuquerque.
The city also got Heading Home’s shuttle buses out to the pick-up site at Coronado park about an hour early.
In preps for Wednesday, the city says it will keep the westside winter shelter open all Wednesday. The city also says the shelter is working with Noon Day and other volunteers to bring food service to the shelter for the day.