This year hasn't been easy on the Taos Men's Shelter at 220 Albright Street. What used to be a safe space for homeless men to find a little respite is now facing uncertainty as COVID-19 cases rise in the Taos community. Though the times have been tough, staff manager Brian Price and the rest of the team have been as busy as ever helping the local indigent population.

Price said that so far, the shelter has been lucky and neither staff nor residents have tested positive to date. Currently, they are housing 12 people. "That's our max capacity," said Price. He also said that at this point they are unfortunately not doing any new admittances. "So people come up looking for a spot, unfortunately we have to turn them away," he said.

It's a tough time for everyone involved, as Price explained that he had been working nearly nine months straight, and joked that he was "kind of crispy." He noted that the service industry, and those who provide services for the poor, have been hit especially hard. "The poor are getting hit the hardest, with one in three Americans being put out of work starting in March. Anything that happens to America happens double to the poor, the people that have no safety net. That's who I'm concerned about in all of this."

Price went on to explain that recently, people who he calls "normies" - or people who had jobs but have lost them due to the recession - are coming more often to the free daily dinners. "Over half of the people who come in are normies. They're coming up for dinner now, and that's really sad," he said.

Perhaps even sadder is what lies ahead. "I try to be an optimist," he said, "but it's very hard to find the upside of what's going to be happening, especially during this winter. How are we going to tell, at the door, the difference between a COVID infection or flu or a cold?"

The worry of unknown illnesses is made worse by the fact that the shelter closes during the day, and all of the current residents have to leave between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. "We're expecting these guys to be in somewhat of a quarantine state," said Price, but explained that when they leave, "they go hang out around town and come back and then all the people that come to have dinner are people they're hanging out with during the day." He said the daily closure of the shelter is part of the organization's effort to get the men back into the employed world and to keep the shelter from becoming permanent housing for anyone. "If people are allowed to stay inside then they may not want to go out and look for work," said Price.

If anyone at the shelter were to contract COVID, the shelter does have a quarantine procedure. Price said that they would put the COVID patient into an isolated place. "If somebody were to contract it, we would find a hotel for them, and then everybody else would be in a legitimate quarantine," he explained. That would mean a complete lockdown of the current residents at the shelter, and no ability to leave the property.

Despite the relentless work and high risk, the shelter manages to help a lot of people. Each day, with the help of community volunteers, they provide meals for any homeless people in the area. Their meal service has been a pinnacle of the organization, and the shelter staff is gearing up for a large Thanksgiving. Price said that Super Save Discount Foods is donating 60 single-plate dinners on Wednesday night, and that they will hand them out to anyone that comes up.

The shelter's case manager, Dan Wohl, has also been able to help put five residents into permanent housing. Price said that Wohl initially started part time but is now a full-time volunteer. Wohl has one-hour meetings with each of the 12 men and helps them with various social services, housing and finding work. "He's a good man," said Price. "Really good man."

To donate clothing, food or other resources to the Taos Men's Shelter, call (575) 779-9198. Donations can also be left on the table outside the shelter.

For more information, contact Andy Chiaraluce at (508) 560-5630 or email: executivedirector@taosmensshelter.org.

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