Despite outreach efforts, some unhoused people prefer to stay that way

A homeless individual who calls himself Rabbit, currently residing near the Compassion Services Center in southeast Albuquerque, on Oct. 30. (Photo by Caleb Scott/Cronkite News)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – One individual who calls himself Rabbit, 50, said he has been on the streets for 26 years as an unsheltered individual. He prefers to be called a hobo. “Hobo is the only word that has dignity to it,” Rabbit said. “Wherever I lay my head is my home.” He emphasized that he is homeless by choice.

Rabbit is currently staying near the Compassion Services Center in the International District in southeast Albuquerque, which is run by Pastor Joanne Landry. “This place right here, Pastor Joanne’s place, is the only place I feel is my second home,” Rabbit said.

Joanne Landry and her husband started the Compassion Services Center in 2010 when they moved into the neighborhood. They started by giving unhoused individuals whatever food they could. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we have to help them,” she said.

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They started with milk and cereal three times a week. Now, Landry says she feeds several hundred people several times per day from city funding and donations. City Councilor Pat Davis and former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley donated money to pay for utilities on their lot. Davis and Albuquerque Public Schools donated a modular home with 40 beds for the Landrys to use.

They’ve since improved their facilities by adding a giant tent for socializing, and showers and laundry services. Landry said they also take care of and feed the homeless people’s dogs.

“There’s a lot of dynamics to homelessness, it’s not one size fits all,” Landry said. “I just have to be patient and allow people to get on the same page. Albuquerque has no clue what to do.” Landry now runs the Compassion Services Center with the help of volunteers after her husband died four years ago.

Rabbit said that he became homeless when he got out of prison. “I did a lot of time. I met this girl and away we went. I just haven’t looked back. I might die on the streets.”

Rabbit said he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has been confined to a wheelchair because of it, but refuses to take disability assistance because he said he works. He builds bicycles and scooters for other homeless people and is currently building a custom bicycle with a car seat for another homeless couple who are expecting a child.

Rabbit said he fights to survive every day, frequently going out dumpster diving to find wood for a barrel fire. The homeless community gathers at the Compassion Services Center daily during the winter, according to Rabbit, and help each other stay warm. Landry said she helps by providing them with clothing donations such as socks, gloves and winter jackets.

Rabbit builds custom bicycles on the street outside of the Compassion Services Center on Oct. 30. (Photo by Caleb Scott/Cronkite News)

Rabbit builds custom bicycles on the street outside of the Compassion Services Center on Oct. 30. (Photo by Caleb Scott/Cronkite News)

A Bernalillo County District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in Albuquerque that went into effect on Nov. 1, prohibiting the destruction or seizure of homeless people’s property. Before the injunction, Rabbit said “They tried to arrest me, they tried to say I’m a public nuisance. They take all my stuff and throw it away.”

Loriann Gonzales, also homeless, said she has known Rabbit for over 30 years and he is a bit of a celebrity in the International District. “I’ve never seen him as happy as he is now, homeless, because he has the freedom to do whatever he wants,” she said, “He’s an amazing man. He’s very protective. He’s a champion to the women that are abused or bullied and has got a knack for taking care of people. He doesn’t exclude anyone.”

“Everybody needs somebody. No matter what,” Rabbit said. “I just try to help as many people as I can.”

Rabbit said he’s active in two nonprofit organizations and is hoping to change the way the world sees the homeless.

“What if someone does better outside?” Rabbit asked. “Who are you to tell me what my quality of life is? They say homelessness is a situation but what if it’s my lifestyle?”

News Reporter, Phoenix

Caleb Scott expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minors in global studies and political science.