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Success Story: DreamTree Project

A Place of Hope

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For 17 years, DreamTree Project has provided a safe haven for homeless teens and young adults in northern New Mexico. And, for the same length of time, the nonprofit’s biggest challenge has been getting the word out on the street that there is a place of hope.

“They may be living with extended family, they may be couch-surfing from place to place, they may be camping in the woods,” said Irene Loy, Outreach Coordinator at the organization’s center on La Posta Road. “They may be safe, they may not. If where they are is not, DreamTree can be the next step. But in a rural setting like northern New Mexico, it’s often hard to find homeless youth.”

The 2016-2017 fiscal year has been productive for DreamTree. A federal Basic Center Program grant has been renewed through Health and Human Services — at $199,976 per year for three years — further solidifying DreamTree’s core program of short-term emergency assistance to youth.

“The funding pays for operations,” said Loy. “It allows us to continue operating with 24-hour supervision in our shelter program.”

Another highlight for DreamTree this year has been the receipt of a three-year Street Outreach Program (SOP) grant. Also funded through the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the $100,777 per year grant allows the Taos-based program to become more proactive in spreading that word that DreamTree is there to help. 

The SOP funding expands DreamTree outreach by putting a DreamTree van out on the streets. The van is supplied with food, hygiene products and blankets that are distributed to those who need them. And, perhaps more importantly, staff in the van let the youth that they encounter know about the DreamTree Project shelter and housing in Taos with hopes that that knowledge will spread by word of mouth.

“We serve those youth we meet out on the streets,” Loy said, “and hopefully they tell others about our program.”

The van parks at locations where homeless youth are known to frequent, like the Walmart in Española and Kit Carson Park in Taos. For now, the van parks in Taos and Española weekly, goes to Mora monthly, and travels to Colfax and Union counties at least twice a year. There’s no requirement that the recipients come to the DreamTree shelter, but the staff hopes the van’s visibility lets them know that help is out there.

“It’s a mobile case management tool that allows us to further develop relationships with more youth and young adults,” said Loy, noting that a DreamTree card is placed on each of the food packs provided by the Santa Fe Food Depot and distributed by DreamTree’s Street Outreach Workers. “Every month we distribute about 25 food packs to unduplicated people — homeless people we have not reached before.”

The state of New Mexico also has stepped up its efforts in the past year, Loy said. Monique Jacobson, cabinet secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department, has initiated a network of regular communication among all the youth shelters in the state. 

“This is the first time that all the shelter directors get together on a regular basis to talk about common issues,” she said. “It’s a triage process that lets everyone know where there are beds available.”

But the enduring success for the project comes with each youngster who takes the difficult step toward a new life by knocking on DreamTree’s door. It’s voluntary and no one is forced to stay there ,but, if they do, good things are very likely to happen in their lives.

The Emergency Shelter provides homeless youth ages 12-17 a safe haven for up to 90 days. It’s regularly near or at capacity — a distinct indicator of the need in the region. Often, the residents move to DreamTree’s Transitional Living facilities, where they begin to solidify their lives with an eye toward independence.

The Transitional Living Program now has 16 units — eight on-site at the La Posta facility and another eight scattered around Taos. An older group, ages 16-24, takes up residence and learns the life skills they may have missed growing up in a difficult family situation. They are required to work toward a high school diploma and maintain employment, and are on their own to prepare their own food, and keep their apartments clean. It functions like an affordable housing program, and youth receive support on making rent payments if needed, as they’re getting started.

DreamTree has also received $120,632 in funding for the 2016-2017 fiscal year from the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administration to run a re-housing program here in Taos. This is a rent and utility assistance program. DreamTree inspects housing units, and the Taos Men’s Shelter and HEART of Taos provide the case management. 

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As Catherine Hummel, Executive Director of DreamTree, summarized, “Through working with youth, young adults and their families, we understand that each person’s situation and needs are different. Our hope is to offer a full range of housing and services, from one night of emergency shelter, to permanent affordable housing for years. We also plan to continue our outreach efforts to let everyone in northern New Mexico know that these services are available.”

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