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Speak up on mental health, drug treatment

I look forward to starting a real and honest conversation with Bernalillo County families on the mental health and drug treatment crisis facing our community. This discussion is long overdue.

Recently the county commission placed two advisory questions on the general election ballot for Bernalillo County voters: One question asks voters if they favor a new gross receipts tax to fund comprehensive mental health services. The other asks if the voters favor the Bernalillo County Commission supporting efforts to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

These questions are non-binding and no laws would change as a result of voting yes on these advisory questions.

But what does change is business as usual.

This is a victory for democracy in our community. Now we can hear directly from voters, and the people impacted by New Mexico’s mental health and drug treatment crisis can make their voices heard.

This election will help the Bernalillo County Commission craft future policy.

Here’s why this matters now: Too many working families in Bernalillo County face diminishing economic opportunities, difficulty finding safe, affordable housing, and little or no access to effective mental health and drug treatment when they need it.

I believe these problems hinder our ability to attract and keep businesses, as well as the talented people that make great companies thrive. These are the real job killers.

We have one incident after another where the mentally ill and the homeless fall through the safety net in our community, sometimes with tragic and fatal consequences. Families are devastated. And our reputation across the country continues to plummet.

I grew up in Albuquerque and I am alarmed by what I see myself, and what my constituents tell me: Too many people struggling with homelessness, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and mental illness with no place to go.

Make no mistake – I love Bernalillo County.

I believe that we can do so much better as a community. But first, we need to acknowledge that we have serious problems that won’t be addressed by platitudes and denial.

I’m hopeful for a better future. But to get there, we’ll need to work together and pool our resources to address what’s really happening in Bernalillo County.

And whether we like it or not, Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center has become the backstop for much that is dysfunctional about our society. The Metropolitan Detention Center is not designed to be a homeless shelter, drug treatment center and mental health treatment provider. But that’s what it is, and it’s consuming more and more of the county budget in a reactive way.

This year, the Metropolitan Detention Center budget is 26 percent of the total general fund budget. That comes to $61 million of $238 million.

This approach is not effective. It’s just expensive. And every time the MDC budget goes up, that’s less money for parks, less money for open space, less money for after school programs, less money for economic development. Our families need those services too.

On Nov. 4, Bernalillo County voters will have the chance to tell the commission if we should invest in proven strategies to lower crime and deal with mental health and drug addiction in a humane way.

Please make your voice heard, and know that I look forward to hearing from you.