With nearly a quarter-million dollars at the ready, a coalition of public, private, nonprofit and church-based groups are seeking a location for a homeless shelter to be built in the city of Española.
Homeless residents of Española have few options for getting out of the elements, since there is currently no homeless shelter in the city. They often sleep in abandoned buildings, beneath bridges, in fields or along the Rio Grande.
Eight months after Española and Ohkay Owingeh authorities and volunteers cleared a large homeless camp, state lawmakers approved $225,000 in funding for the Española Pathways Shelter.
New Mexico House Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, led the effort to include the funding in the “junior” or supplemental spending bill passed by the legislature on March 14.
United Way of Northern New Mexico Rio Arriba Community Liaison Roger Montoya said Sanchez could have chosen to split the $225,000 in annual funding among different projects, but commended him for giving it all to the shelter project.
Montoya is one of the people organizing the project. He said the money could initially be used to pay for new and improved infrastructure in whatever building becomes the shelter.
Then, Montoya said, it would be used to pay for the shelter’s operations, mostly to pay for staff who would run the shelter’s crisis triage, case management, administration and other services for shelter residents.
However, those people going through the most critical cases, including conditions like schizophrenia or extreme intoxication, will be moved into “medical triage” that will be paid for by Hoy Recovery, Inc. and the Española Hospital, Montoya said.
“Joseph gave every penny of that appropriation available to this project,” Montoya said during a public community forum Monday night at the Española Public Library. “He sees the need, and he understands this community, like no other, can conquer this in a beautiful way, so I’m really humbled.”
A location for the shelter has not been determined.
Where it will be located is likely to be a topic of debate, as it was during Monday’s meeting. Montoya said the coalition will not construct a new building, because that would be too expensive.
Montoya and others, like Hoy Executive Director Ambrose Baros and Rio Arriba County Economic Development Director Christopher Madrid, have toured the former Public Service Company of New Mexico building at the corner of Hunter Street and North Railroad Avenue on the city’s West Side.
Montoya said he is also considering a city-owned lot that currently hosts the municipal Public Works Department, near the YDI Española Head Start school, but “nothing is concrete.”
“I don’t want it there,” West Side resident and artist Diego Lopez told the people gathered on Monday. “But I’m willing to look for solutions, to see what resources are available.”
Lopez’s home was burglarized in March. The suspect(s) are still at large as of press time.
“I want to help people, and stuff like that, but I’m coming from that other side, too,” he said. “You step into my property, get off it, G. You get caught up, you get shot up, G.”
More than 20 people attended the meeting, including Española Matanza Board President Ralph Martinez; Mayor Javier Sanchez; City Councilor Denise Benavidez; Northern New Mexico College President Rick Bailey; Española Planning Director Alison Gillette; and Rio Arriba County Commissioner James J. Martinez.
Also present were Maurice Fleming, a counselor at the Española office of New Mexico Treatment Services; Jyl DeHaven, an Albuquerque-based commercial real estate broker; Marissa Evans, a representative of an Albuquerque intensive outpatient treatment program; Julian and Leonard Martinez, from the 4B Foundation; and Heather Nordquist, an activist from Pojoaque.
Joseph Sanchez and each of the other members of the state House of Representatives decided how to spend $400,000 under the bill.
It moves $225,000 from the state’s General Fund to the state Mortgage Finance Authority “for operations of a shelter providing services to the homeless in Española.”
The New Mexico Coalition to End Homeless has agreed to be the fiscal agent for the money, Montoya said.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the legislation on April 5.
“Sound investment of public funds is essential for the State’s economic growth, protection of New Mexico’s natural resources, and the quality of life of New Mexico communities,” she wrote in a message to lawmakers about the bill.
The bill states that the money is to be spent in Fiscal Year 2020, which ends on June 30, 2020.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, has said that any funding in the junior appropriations bill that ends up not being spent will go back into the state’s cash reserves, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
It is not clear if the funding for the shelter will continue after June 2020 into the next fiscal year.
“That (money) will be, God willing, re-occurring,” Montoya said. “We have a pretty strong promise. There is always the potential that it won’t be re-occurring for at least the four years that Governor Grisham is in office. It could be eight (years).”
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