The Independent

October 27, 2018

By Bill Donovan

Independent correspondent

GALLUP — As the temperatures starts to get colder, local health and law enforcement officials are once again searching for solutions to reduce the number of street people who die each year because of exposure to the cold.

The previous winter was mild in comparison with some of the past winters, but the city still saw several of what they call “open field deaths.”

RMCHCS gets involved

This year will see even more attention given to the problem as Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services is getting involved through its Substance Abuse Treatment Center.

The center has a program where it provides work for those who go through the treatment program as a way to ease them back into the workforce.

During October and November, workers in the program will be visiting businesses in the area asking them to put up flyers in their windows and around their stores urging customers and passersby to call Metro Dispatch if they see someone who might be in danger. The flyers urge locals to be aware of the problem and to help save lives by calling Metro Dispatch.

‘Ignoring them is neglect’

“Don’t let these people freeze to death,” says the flyer. “They need shelter for the night. Ignoring them is neglect.”

“Anyone can call Metro Dispatch or 911 if they observe anyone laying on the ground and obviously in need of assistance, especially in inclement weather,” said Franklin Boyd, Gallup’s acting police chief.

The police department each winter sets in place a “ditch patrol” where a couple of community service aides go around and look in areas where street people congregate to see if there are any that need to be transported somewhere to spend the night out of the cold.

“We actually started this a couple of weeks ago,” said Captain Marinda Spencer. However, the area they need to cover is so vast that they aren’t able to be everywhere which is why area residents are being asked to step in and help.”

Boyd said the police department routinely finds people who are nearly frozen and close to dying. Their efforts have resulted in saving a lot of lives over the years.

“So far these unfortunate deaths are showing a decline and and we have had no deaths from exposure this (winter) but temperatures are just begun to drop,” Boyd said.

Taxi service to detox

Local health officials say that what the city is basically setting up is a taxi service for those most in danger of dying because of their lifestyle. Since few street people have cellphones or access to phones and may be too intoxicated to be aware of the danger they are in, others have to step in to make sure they are safe.

Kevin Foley, director of NCI, said his center will once again be providing accommodations nightly for those in need of a place to stay because of the cold temperatures.

He said the center has accommodations for 150 people with the doors opening at 6 p.m. Those who take advantage of the service are also given breakfast in the morning.

Bill Lee, director of the Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce, is getting involved as well by issuing a personal request for city businesses to become part of the effort to save lives this winter.

“We welcome this opportunity and urge our members to post the flyers we have sent to them,” he said.

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