A place of hope for former inmates - Albuquerque Journal

A place of hope for former inmates

The interior of the new Resource Re-Entry Center, which opened Tuesday in Downtown Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

For years, inmates released from the Metropolitan Detention Center were dropped off at a street corner, day or night, in Downtown Albuquerque.

On Tuesday, Bernalillo County’s Resource Re-Entry Center opened near Fourth and Roma. It will be the place where, going forward, the county will drop off inmates being released from custody.

At the center, if they chose to do so, the men and women can meet with people who will help them navigate temporary shelters, housing, food, medicine, drug rehabilitation and other social programs that are available. The center will be open 24 hours a day.

“This was dangerous,” County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said of the prior way that inmates were released. “This was particularly dangerous for women. That became really obvious when we had women come to speak to the commission about being dropped off in the middle of the night with no resources, no safe place to stay, no phone and walking for miles to get home in the middle of the night.”

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said most of the agencies and programs that will have some presence at the center already exist throughout the city. The center will be a one-stop shop where former inmates can learn about the programs they could use to try to get on the right track.

University of New Mexico Hospital employees will be there to direct people to behavioral health resources. The city is providing bus and temporary housing vouchers. There are also plans to have clothing available, among other programs, Morgas Baca said.

Renovating the center cost about $800,000, and the facility will have an annual operating budget of about $1 million, according to a county news release.

Morgas Baca said most costs for the program will be paid for with proceeds of a gross receipts tax that went into effect in 2015 to fund “more mental and behavioral health services” and to provide “a safety net system that develops a continuum of care not otherwise funded” in the state.

The tax is one-eighth of 1 percent on most goods and services throughout the county and is estimated to generate about $17 million to $20 million a year.

Robert Salazar, a former in-mate turned advocate, said a Resource Re-Entry Center would have helped him after he got released from the MDC. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Morgas Baca said about 50 to 70 people are released from the detention center every day.

Robert Salazar, one of those former inmates at the opening ceremony, said he struggled with mental illness and addiction issues and for a period in his life he was in and out of the county detention center.

“I got dropped off down here in the middle of the night, 3 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “… It didn’t matter if I spent three days, three months or 18 months. I didn’t have any resources. I didn’t have any (form of) communication. I had nothing.

“And being dropped off here, the only coping I had was to give up and get high. And it was easier to give up and get high than to find a ride, find shelter, find medication and find resources.”

The former inmate turned advocate said the center will help people like him.

“What I see in this place is hope,” he said. “Being able to have the right resources when people need them most and are at their most vulnerable will help provide that hope.”

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