A Community Call To Action To End Homelessness In Española

The former PNM building is the proposed location for the Española Pathways Shelter

A Community Call To Action To End Homelessness In Española

Proponents present a proposal for the Española Pathways Shelter to the Española City Council.

The following draft working document, authored and submitted by Ralph Martinez and Roger Montoya, was presented to the Española City Council on Jan. 22. For more information or to get involved, contact Roger Montoya at rogeremontoya@gmail.com. 

At this very moment, with temperatures plummeting to dangerous levels, numerous human beings (low estimates suggest 20 – 50 individuals) are suffering in the cold under bridges and in abandoned buildings or in makeshift structures within our city and county. We have identified chronic homelessness as an urgent need in the City of Española and the County of Rio Arriba.

We offer this working document to potential regional partners as we consider the establishment of an emergency Low Barrier small scale (18 – 20 bed) homeless shelter for men and women ages 18 – 81. 

Such a shelter has never existed formally in the county or the city. The nearest services for those in need include: St. Elizabeth’s Shelter and Pete’s Place in Santa Fe, more than 30 miles south. the Taos Men’s Shelter is more than 45 miles north and the La Puente Shelter in Alamosa, Colorado.

We believe that our community has a moral, economic and public safety obligation to act collaboratively to end homelessness.   

According to the 2017 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, roughly 2,500 people, will find themselves homeless tonight in New Mexico.  An estimated 800 people are experiencing chronic homelessness in New Mexico.  We seek to inspire “collective impact” by marshalling the considerable existing resources across private and governmental sectors; tribal jurisdictions, Los Alamos National Laboratories, law enforcement, faith based and nonprofit organizations.

We invite you to join us by taking a first step toward a cohesive continuum of care with lifesaving services and access to pathways toward recovery for a forgotten and often misunderstood population.  

Data suggests that a 2/3 majority of homeless clients suffer from co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse. The data from the Taos Men’s Shelter (TMS) over 12 years suggests that a “low barrier” facility with solid basic house rules and strong policies will manage the toughest cases and those individuals who just need a bridge to the structured support to build the resiliency they need to seek a better quality of life.

A “low barrier” shelter is often defined as one that removes requirements and impediments to entrance such as proof of identification or having an income and is one that receives clients who may be intoxicated and or under the influence of substances at the point of admission. Clients undergo a bag search and are assessed so as to prepare staff for a range of expectations each evening.

At a recent site visit to the Taos Men’s Shelter with the Rio Arriba County Economic Development leader Christopher Madrid, we observed that this replicable model is a sustainable solution that is within reach for our region.  It was notable that the TMS shelter is centrally located near the new Taos County complex campus. It also neighbors two public schools and works closely with Law enforcement, which is just steps away. The shelter benefits from the ongoing editorial support of the local Taos News and is revered within the community as a vital life link for interagency collaboration.

TMS is a nonprofit that has been in existence for 12 years. They provide homeless men of Taos ages 18 – 81 with food, laundry, hygiene access, case management and a warm place to stay 365 days a year. The winter hours are 5 p.m. – 8 a.m. daily.

In 2017, TMS estimates they served 320 different clients. Thirty percent were from Taos, 20 percent from other parts of New Mexico and 50 percent were from outside the state. TMS provides access to social services and skill training. Permanent employment and long-term housing are the goals.   

With an annual operational budget of $150K, the organization is part of a state wide nonprofit – the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. TMS is a remarkable result of shared civic responsibility and dedicated volunteerism, with a modest facility with the lease payment covered by Taos County.  This agreement includes an in kind land lease (not utilities). TMS also receives $35,000 for a crucial part-time case management position through the county. This position has been in place for three years. The City of Taos contributes 5 – 10K annually for general operations. TMS did not have an Executive Director until 2017. The Board of Directors managed these duties on an in kind basis for nine years.   

The TMS staff consists of six paid positions: executive director (15 hours weekly), case manager (30 hours), night monitor (30 hours), shift manager (30 hours). book keeper (15 hours) and AmeriCorps VISTA (volunteer at 40 hours weekly).

One free evening meal is provided daily from 6 – 8 p.m. that is supplied by donor sponsorships from the community’s faith-based organizations and local restaurants year round.  Donated day-old pastries, fruit and other snacks are available daily. A small storage unit houses clothing donations that are managed and organized by a Vista Volunteer and community volunteers.

The case manager handles the individual intake and provides one-on-one assessment, with a wide range of referrals to behavioral health and mental health practitioners and detox and recovery services as needed. In addition, access to GED/basic life skills development, financial literacy and work force development opportunities are coordinated. Transportation is provided by RTD and local volunteers. In some cases, local employers and nonprofits have been open to supporting clients who are ready and able to transition toward part-time employment as they began to reclaim their lives.   

Based on data from Taos County, we believe that a shelter in Española will reduce 911 calls by 5 – 10 percent simply by having 20 chronically homeless persons in a safe place, not to mention the savings with deferred jail time for low-level offences and ER and law enforcement expenditures.

Current statistics on teen homelessness here in the Española Valley have estimates of more than 50 individuals identified at Española Valley High School.  The Coalition to End Homelessness has secured funding to begin addressing the 18 – 24-year-old population.   

Carr Lane Cleanup Project

In the fall of 2018, we participated in a tremendous collaborative effort to clean and clear the Carr Lane bosque area that had housed a large makeshift homeless community behind the Walmart. It required a collaborative agreement with Ohkay Owingeh Tribal leadership, the City of Española, Rio Arriba County Fire Department and generated much good will.  While this was a successful mobilization of more than 80 individuals, where will those homeless citizens go? That project was a first step in a complex and challenging dilemma that we face as citizens and leaders alike.  

We have mobilized these agencies nonprofits, local leaders and citizens with this Community Call to Action:

  • The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness  
  • Hoy Recovery
  • Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services Department 
  • DreamTree Taos -teen homelessness nonprofit  
  • Española Public Schools
  • Habitat for Humanity of Española
  • San Martin De Porres Soup Kitchen
  • The Sikh Community “Lungar” Food Service programs
  • Six pastors from our region Faith Based communities include: Victory Outreach/Faith, El Buen Pastor, New Creations in Christ Ministries, The Rock Christian Fellowship, The Light House, Youth for Christ  (YFC) 

Next Steps

With a new era in leadership at the local, county and state levels of government, how will we respond to the challenges that chronic social needs pose within our community?   As we ponder the impact of severe poverty, underemployment and workforce development, addiction and recovery, the long-term effects of adverse child hood experiences (ACES), low performing schools, increasing levels of violence and food insecurity, to name some of our challenges, how will we remedy this mounting matrix of needs?

It is our observation that our region is rich in programs and services but inefficient in networking and centralizing the good work happening in silos that are often nestled in rural villages and disconnected communities across this vast county. We propose a comprehensive mapping and assessment of all services, with the goal of expanding and scaling the best practices of proven models like the First Born and Home Visiting programs initiated by the LANL Foundation and Las Cumbres as examples. The Pathways Software at the RAC Department of Health and Human Services must be fully funded and expanded in order to reap the broad benefits of interagency cohesion.   

Proposal: Española Pathways Shelter  

We have identified a building located at the corner of Hunter Street and Railroad Avenue, the former PNM building owned by Becky and Richard Garcia. This facility is for lease with the option to purchase and has approximately 3,000 square feet of space. The current floor plan lends itself to serving men and women (separately) with modifications to divided access, with added shower stalls and a modest but compliant food service counter and sink. The location is within blocks of the Workforce Development office, the San Martin De Pores Soup Kitchen, the Park & Ride on Mainstreet and the New Mexico Community College campus.  

Comprehensive case management could be provided with existing regional providers and agencies with in the Rio Arriba Community Health Council network.

Hoy Recovery Program Inc. has long supported this initiative and would be available to provide treatment services for such a project.  As you are aware, Hoy’s treatment continuum includes Intensive Out-Patient (IOP), sub-acute residential detox and 30 – 60-day residential treatment and transitional living (TLP). Executive Director Ambrose Baros has expressed an interest in developing a Crisis Triage Center with a full time RN on the site of the proposed shelter.

Peer Support Services, Food and Clothing

Our local coalition of faith-based organizations, second-hand clothing business, the San Martin de Porres and Sikh community have pledged support in these service need categories.  

Remodeling and Light Construction  

The Habitat for Humanity of Española would take the lead in mobilizing volunteers and materials with a pledge from the Hacienda Home Center for additional contributions and support.

Several Local anonymous donors are willing to cover the first six months’ rent of $800 per month, totaling $4800.   

Rational for a temporary POP- UP Shelter (6 months)

Currently no official data exists on who are the homeless in this region of Española, our neighboring tribal communities and Rio Arriba in general. What are their ages, genders, ethnicities and critical needs?  

This experiment would supply a warm place and emergency services until the warmer months and most critically would supply data and tracking to guide our collective plans toward a more permanent facility.