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A New Kind of Homelessness: Homelessness among
Native American students rising throughout
Albuquerque Public Schools

By Shawn Abeita
Dawn of Nations Today

Victor Valles, Jeanette Rubio, and her kids Ian and Jayden support the APS Title I Homeless Project by donating money at the annual Ben and Jerry's free cone day on April 21, 2009 in Albuquerque., N.M. Ben and Jerry's partnered with the project to raise monetary donations and create awareness about student homelessness.
photo credit: Shawn Abeita

To many of us, homelessness is a middle-aged adult male, down on his luck, trying to find a place in life. But in Albuquerque, N.M., there is a new kind of homelessness emerging. It’s a type of homelessness in which high school students who live in poverty-like conditions are finding it hard to study, grow up and live the life of normal teenagers. It’s a homelessness where the Native American population has shown significantly increasing representation.

Native American students who find themselves living in shelters and overcrowded apartments led to them becoming apart of this new type of homelessness. John William is Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux and a social studies teacher at Highland High School in Albuquerque—who has worked with such homeless students—said the homelessness the students find themselves in is a detriment to their education. “These students cannot concentrate on homework if there are six or eight other family members constantly interrupting the student,” Williams said.

Williams has worked with these students day in and day out as they go through the academic year. Williams said because of the lack of employment opportunities on reservations, Native American families are moving to Albuquerque to chase the dream of a better life in the city. Unfortunately, due to the lack of education or work experience most of these families’ parents cannot find employment that pays enough for rent, food and other necessities.

Williams said he’s also recognized these students are missing a lot of school because they are used as babysitters for younger siblings who are not old enough to attend school. He said this situation has proven to be a detriment to their education. “By forcing Native American students to take over parental responsibility, it sends a bad education message to these students,” Williams said. It’s these experiences of Native American and other high school students in the Albuquerque Public School (APS) system that has led APS to start the APS Title I Homeless Project.

For 16 years the Title I Homeless Project has recognized homelessness is about more than just students living on the streets. It also includes some families doubled up, or living in transitional or emergency shelters, motels, cars, abandoned buildings and other inadequate conditions. Don Whatley, resource teacher with the Title I Homeless Project said the project’s purpose for helping homeless students is to offer wrap-around services. With this service, once the project is sent the name of a potential homeless student, the project locates the student’s family to determine the adequacy of living conditions. Once the student is qualified to be enrolled in the project, he or she is provided with school supplies, school uniforms (if necessary), city bus passes and food donations.

One of the outreach workers with the APS Title I Homeless Project thanks Ben and Jerry's customers donating to the project at the Ben and Jerry's annual free cone day. Customers made monetary donations to the APS Title I Homeless Project, while enjoying a complementary scoop of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.
photo credit: Shawn Abeita

Whatley said the project also partners with local health and shelter organizations like First Nations and Hogares to find temporary shelter for students and their families. Whatley said outreach workers are available for students and their families so a personal connection and relationship can be established between the students, families and school system. The APS Title I Homeless Project is a federally funded program, but the funds do not always meet the needs of the programs. The project raises additional funds by setting up food and clothing drives, partnering with local businesses to raise donations to purchase school supplies and school uniforms throughout the school year.

Whatley said the increase in Native American homeless students is due to a lack of support systems for Native homeless students, an inability to establish adequate housing and no or low income support. Whatley also noted there are more and more teenage students who are being forced to take over parental responsibility, which leads to attendance issues with the students.  He also feels a lack of transportation, health and culture shock contribute to keeping Native homeless students in school. Williams agrees.

William said students have a “fear of going home,” and seek outside or after school activities to keep from having to go home. Those in the Title I Homeless Project recognize this and continually encourage students to actively participate in school clubs and after school projects. Whatley said participation is especially critical for freshman and sophomore high school students, because it is at this point in the student’s education that the project typically sees the highest drop-out rate.

Helen Fox, liason for the APS Title I Homeless Project, said the number of students enrolled in the project for 2007-2008 school year was 3,700 and this number has already been surpassed and is still on the rise for 2008-2009. As of April 21, 2009 the APS Title I Homeless Project has enrolled 4,750 students, with over one month to go in the regular school calendar year and two more months left in the year-round calendar year. Whatley added that in the 2007 calendar year there were 402 Native American students in the APS Title I Homeless Project. In 2008 the number of homeless Native American students increased by almost 20 percent to finish at 491 students enrolled. "This is a significant increase," Whatley said.

Even with the significant increase, Williams said the Native American students enrolled in the program have taken advantage of the program to try to make things better for themselves. William said Native American homeless students are “very resilient, and they tend to work harder when faced with what appear to be impossible situations.”



Native American Job Opportunities with Tribal
and Federal Agencies

By Ingrid Mitchell 
Dawn of Nations Today


Jeannette Trujillo (Cochiti/San Ildefonso), lead telecommunications equipment operator, multi-tasks telephone lines radio and the National Crime Information Center database to law enforcement officers in the field.
Photo credit by Ingrid R. Mitchell

The economy is on almost everyone’s mind these days.  Many people are cutting back on non-essential items, not spending as much, and just hoping their jobs are secure enough to ride out the recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of May 8, 2009 unemployment rose in the United States from 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent since December 2007. Five-point-seven million jobs were lost during this period. The BLS updates figures monthly. While Native Americans are competing with the rest of the country for positions, there is an area of the job market they should consider. Tribal businesses and federal agencies need and want Native applicants.

Gabby Rodriquez is a human resource representative for Route 66 Casino, located on the Laguna Pueblo reservation, just a few miles west of Albuquerque, N.M.  Rodriquez said Native preference takes place in the interviewing process when applicants are equally qualified. While such a preference can help Native applicants, it does not guarantee they will get the position. Native applicants still must be qualified for the position.

Route 66 Casino offers a wide variety of job opportunities, from food and beverage service to hospitality, retail, administrative and executive positions. The casino is owned by the Pueblo of Laguna and employs tribal members from surrounding areas in New Mexico and Arizona.  Workers travel from the Zuni, Hopi and Navajo reservations to work. As might be expected, the casino is sensitive to the traditions and cultures of its tribal employees and other tribes as well.  Employees are allowed to take leave for traditional and religious activities as outlined in the casino’s Laguna Development Corporation (LDC) policy. Leadership roles of tribal members are recognized. For example, when a member is elected as a traditional governing officer for their tribe, the LDC will hold their job until the term is over.

Being allowed to take leave for tribal and religious obligations is important for many Natives. Tribal and non-tribal employers acknowledge the importance of Native culture and traditions.  “Elders are a part of our law enforcement community,” said Lt. Everett Chackee, who is Navajo and the acting chief of police for Southern Pueblos Agency in Albuquerque, N.M.  “We participate in our Native traditions. We have medicine men and tribal leaders on our force … New Mexico and Arizona is a traditional environment.”

While Native preference and approved leave for cultural and religious traditions is what many Native job applicants are looking for, employers are seeking specific skills, and educational backgrounds when filling positions. Major organizations like the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as well as tribally owned businesses want to hire employees with two- and four-year undergraduate degrees. Associate degrees or advance training in culinary arts construction and trades also are needed.

Chacklee stressed how important an education is when applying for an entry level police position with any law enforcement agency. He said at least two years of college with a degree in criminal justice and/or a military background is required.  Applicants must be physically and mentally fit and have experience in the areas of communications, psychology and sociology.

Josie Montoya of Isleta Pueblo is a human resource specialist for the BIA. Montoya said that nationally 70 percent of BIA employees are Native American. The BIA recruits applicants from rural areas surrounding Native American reservations, said Montoya. She advises job-seekers to make sure they fill out their application completely, but not to stop there. “Follow up, I prefer talking to someone over the phone, to get a feel for their interest in the job they are applying for,” said Montoya. “Following up with a telephone call is more important than you think.”

Dan Breuninger is Mescalero Apache and an acting assistant director of law enforcement. He is a graduate of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. Breuninger advices anyone who is seeking employment to be patient. Expect to start at entry level while remembering that advancement is available in the future. Make a commitment to the job and do not get frustrated. Developing your credentials and reputation, while demonstrating a commitment to strong performance, is part of the process of job seeking. “Employers who are hiring see a degree, and they know it means a lot,” said Breuninger.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Southern Pueblos Agency Mobil Command Unit has been used in critical incidents and emergencies that included Hurricane Katrina.
Photo credit: Ingrid R. Mitchell


Dawn of Nations Today Volumn 4; Issue 1; May 2009, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.

Dawn of Nations Today is a special edition published by the Native American Studies Department, University College, University of New Mexico
Mesa Vista Hall 3080, MSC 06 3740, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M. 87131-0001
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