Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
It was midnight, about two months ago, at the Alvarado Transportation Center. Jordan Moenaert, lunch box in hand, was heading home after a 10-hour shift when a security guard told him about the man and the 4-year-old boy.
“He said they had nowhere to go,” said Moenaert, an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department’s Downtown Public Safety District. “I remember the dad looking kind of scared and rightfully so. The little boy just seemed happy. He walked right up to me and started talking. ‘Hi, police.’ ”
Officers in the Downtown Public Safety District specialize in proactive police work and community engagement, so they often interact with homeless people.
“I started calling all the local shelters,” Moenaert said. “I must have made eight or nine calls. They were either full, or not accepting families because of COVID. I got some voicemails and people not answering.”
Moenaert, 33, is married and the father of an 8-year-old stepdaughter. He could feel the father’s helplessness.
“I just took a deep breath, looked at the father and the son and decided I was going to help them,” he said.
Moenaert took them to a motel on Central near Interstate 25 and paid for a two-night stay out of his own pocket. The very next morning, he and Maria Wolfe, APD’s Public Safety ECHO coordinator, got busy looking for resources to help the father and son.
Late last month, thanks to help provided by a wide array of agencies, charities, churches and individuals, Downtown Public Safety District officers, staff and volunteers moved the father and son into an apartment in Southeast Albuquerque.
“I still haven’t accepted it, that this is my place,” said Matias Lovato, 25.
He is sitting in the two-bedroom apartment he and his son, Matthew, were moved into after a year of living in and out of shelters, subsidized motel rooms and a Honda Odyssey before it got towed away with all their possessions in it.
Matthew, who turned 5 a few days ago, is playing on a couch nearby.
“I’m still not comfortable,” Lovato said. “But my son is.”
Lovato grew up in Southeast Albuquerque, just a block east of the apartment complex he lives in now.
He said he was a quarterback on the Highland High C team when he was a freshman.
“I was good. I could throw that ball.”
But he dropped out of school after his freshman year and admits he has been mostly on his own since he was 12.
He said he did some months in jail in Albuquerque from July 2017 to January 2018. In January 2020, he suffered a gunshot wound. A friend was messing with a firearm when it discharged sending a bullet through his right hand and into his right leg. He walks with a limp.
Lovato said he has been barred from some local shelters because of behavior problems.
“People say I flip out, but I really don’t. It’s just sometimes people don’t talk to me right.”
Matthew is enrolled now in a preschool three blocks from the apartment complex. His father walks him to and from the school. Matthew’s mother is not in the picture.
Lovato and his son had been living in the Odyssey for months when the van’s alternator failed. He was trying to find a replacement for the part when he saw a tow truck drive by with his Honda loaded on it.
“Things happen for a reason,” he said.
Lovato and Matthew walked to the Transportation Center.
“I asked a security officer if he could help us out,” Lovato said. “You can’t be afraid to ask for help. Officer Jordan is a gift from God. Maria, too. They changed my life. I didn’t want my son to be on the street.”
“What struck me about this case is that you have a father here who really loves his kid and is trying to take care of him,” ECHO coordinator Wolfe said. “And you have a child who is energetic, bright, verbal, confident, playful and flexible. His dad is very patient. I saw a lot of positive parenting.”
The Downtown Public Safety ECHO (Extension of Community Healthcare Outcomes) Project brings together Downtown residents, workers, businesses, health care providers, police, firefighters and others to share skills, increase knowledge and solve problems.
“There are a lot of voices at the table,” Wolfe said, “And not just experts, but also people who need the expertise.”
Wolfe said she was surprised that there were limited options for homeless fathers with children.
“Jordan got the ball rolling (for Lovato and Matthew) by taking the initiative to house them out of his own pocket, and then we had a whole team of people step up to help,” she said. “And when it was clear there were gaps in the system, charitable organizations helped out.”
Health Care for the Homeless found a housing voucher through the Linkages Program, which provides rental assistance for persons with mental health or behavioral problems.
Other organizations, businesses and individuals chipped in with motel rent money and food donations. Lovato himself helped pay his way at the motel by working a graveyard shift at the registration desk.
“He was willing to put in the work to help himself,” Moenaert said. “He was willing to do what it took to get his son in a better situation.”
The city of Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services got Matthew enrolled in preschool. Other agencies helped Lovato get the documentation – birth certificates, ID – he needed to apply for services.
The next step, Moenaert said, is helping Lovato find a job and save money to buy a car.
Growing up in Los Angeles, all Moenaert wanted to be was a professional hockey player. He moved to Albuquerque in part because he wanted to play for the city’s former Scorpions hockey team.
He became a police officer after working for some private security companies here.
“If I had not been a police officer, I never would have come across this family…,” he said. “As we grow up, life happens and we find our path.”
Lovato is glad it worked out that way.
“He’s one of the officers I give a lot of respect to,” he said of Moenaert. “There are not a lot of officers like that. He has a family, too, so he understands. I talk to him a lot. He understands what I am going through.”