‘Street Connect’ program proves success in helping homeless

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Can I help you?” are four simple words making a difference within Albuquerque’s homeless population. And they’re coming from a team led by Jodie Jepson, the executive director of Street Connect, a program under the Heading Home umbrella.

“Sometimes it takes a week, a month or two months until they know we’re not going to go away,” said Jepson. “We are going to walk with them the whole way. So it’s trust.”

Street Connect works directly with APD, mostly in downtown and the southeast, to identify who needs the most help based on calls for service.

“We’re mostly foot patrol or bikes so we get to know people pretty quickly,” said Sgt. Erica Lowry, from the APD Downtown Division. “When you’re arresting people for petty stuff it’s just kind of a revolving door as far as they’re just going to come back out, and they do need resources.”

Groups like Street Connect are now there to provide those resources, from getting people new IDs and a place to stay for a night or longer, to helping them re-enroll in Medicaid or the SNAP program for food.

Jepson also walks alongside Lindsay Fox, a physician assistant from UNM Hospital, who splits her time between her clinic and the program. 

Fox can triage and treat a number of conditions, right on the sidewalk.

“Diagnosing COVID-19, to bed bugs, to sunburns, to sometimes it’s even more acute like a suicide ideation or someone whose clearly psychotic and needs to be hospitalized,” said Fox. “I say it allows me to bear witness to the struggles they’re going through and actually work with them, and partner with them in better outcomes. As opposed to having them come into maybe a brick and mortar clinic that feels foreign.”

A recent report from Heading Home shows the program is able to help around 90 people per year, including about 40 recently displaced after the city shut down Coronado Park.

It also shows people enrolled in the Street Connect program visited the emergency room 40% less during their first 18 months in the program, which equates to more than $600,000 in publicly-paid medical bills.