Those who are homeless often find themselves there during the very worst points in their lives.
Such was the case for Carla Dominguez, who found herself in recent years homeless in Albuquerque and battling substance abuse.
She had several pending shoplifting and criminal damage to property charges to her name.
In the past year, her father died and her sister was murdered, she said.
Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court’s Outreach Court has proved to be her way off the streets.
On Thursday afternoon, Metropolitan Court Judge Kenny C. Montoya dismissed all charges against her after she completed the Outreach Court program.
“I’ve come a long way in the past few years,” Dominguez said to Montoya during the Outreach Court graduation ceremony at The Rock at Noonday.
Her mother, Mary Jane Dominguez, looked on from the last row of seats.
“I’m proud of my daughter,” she said after the ceremony.
By dismissing nonviolent misdemeanors and associated warrants, Outreach Court hopes to break the cycle of homelessness.
After being charged with those misdemeanors, like criminal trespassing or public urination, homeless people may skip their court dates.
“They often don’t show up to court for a number of reasons: fearing that fines and fees will be imposed, not wanting to leave their belongings, or possibly not feeling presentable to appear before a judge,” according to a news release from the program.
As a result, bench warrants are issued, which affect the person’s ability to find employment or qualify for some forms of assistance.
“All you have to do to get in is be sincere and really want some help,” Montoya said.
Also happening at The Rock at Noonday on Thursday – and continuing today at 9 a.m. – was “Stand Down and Project Hands-Up,” an annual event that assists those who may be at the beginning of their journey to get off the streets.
The two-day event offers a plethora of resources to the homeless community, from on-the-spot mental health counseling to free haircuts.
The first day was dedicated exclusively to veterans in need and dozens of veteran services providers were on hand to provide information.
“Once you fall in that rut, it’s hard to think of how to get out,” said Army veteran Paul Randolph, who was homeless for nearly a decade before getting housing through the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.
Randolph, who said he still struggles financially, came to Thursday’s event to get free soap and other toiletries.
Fermin Ortega, program director for the nonprofit Veterans Integration Center, which helps put on the event, said he was pleased to see that attendance appeared to have gone down from years past.
“This is the only type of event where you’re hoping for less participation each year,” he said..