'HEART House' opens on shoestring budget

Homeless shelter opens for women, children, but funding remains a question

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 11/26/19

Three years ago, HEART of Taos became another nonprofit founded on a set of good intentions, but it has struggled ever since to execute on its most central, and to some, lofty, goal: opening a shelter dedicated to serving homeless women and children in Taos.

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'HEART House' opens on shoestring budget

Homeless shelter opens for women, children, but funding remains a question

Posted

Updated Nov. 27 at 9 a.m.

Three years ago, HEART of Taos became another nonprofit founded on a set of good intentions, but it has struggled ever since to execute on its most central, and to some, lofty, goal: opening a shelter dedicated to serving homeless women and children in Taos.

Kimberly Park, the organization's second director since HEART's founding in 2016, said that will change on Tuesday (Dec. 3), when the doors finally open to a 15-bed shelter housed in a five-bedroom, three-bath residence located at 1213 Lower Ranchitos Road. Park said one of the bathrooms is fully ADA compliant.

The shelter will be open seven days a week, Park said, with intake hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Women with children will be able to stay for up to seven days, initially only at night. Extensions will be given on a case-by-case basis. Longer stays may be available if women participate in the shelter's case management program, which will be designed to assist them with job placement, budgets and landing long-term housing.

But there's a major caveat to Park's announcement: with only a little over $80,000 in operational funding currently in hand, and a number of grants still up in the air, the house will remain open for only about three months, when, without additional dollars, it would have to close. Park estimates the annual cost to run the shelter at about $368,000.

But Park said she and her team are hopeful it won't come to that. She's optimistic that their grant funding requests, including a bid for funding from Taos County that will be up for grabs in January, will be successful.

"HEART's focus is strictly with HEART House," Park said this week, explaining that a resource center the organization had operated on Paseo del Pueblo Sur as a stop gap until the shelter could be opened has been permanently closed.

Cutting the costly lease to run the resource center has been one of several cost-saving measures Park has completed since she became director in September 2018. She describes her tenure so far as a "cleaning up" process, which she said became necessary after HEART's original director, Ama Kahn, "left unexpectedly" that year.

Park didn't go into detail as to why Khan left the organization, but made it clear that she, her small staff and the board are heading in a different direction.

"HEART went through a transition organizationally in the last year or so," Park said, a hint of exhaustion in her voice. "I was basically getting all of our financials, our organizational docs, all of those things in order so that you can actually go have a more competitive proposal to larger foundations. We actually got that done this past year - cleaned up everything: our programmatic goals and our focus."

Park believes that the opening of the new shelter, even in the short term, will help push HEART closer to the front of the line for competitive funding requests.

After $750,000 dollars were raised in the first two years of HEART's founding, raising more money has become a challenge.

"I understand that HEART house was being publicized as either being open or this or that, so really my goal was to understand what we're dealing with and then figure out the next best steps to actually get it open," Park said.

Aside from operating the resource center, whose main expense was putting up homeless women in hotel rooms, Park said money raised under Khan went toward funding renovations for the house on Ranchitos.

Park said the house is owned by local behavioral health provider Valle del Sol and was badly damaged by a continual flow of squatters. More money, too, was necessary to meet the standards for a special use permit from Taos County, which was finalized last month.

The Taos News has requested a full breakdown of the organization's financials, which weren't made available as of press time.

Park said HEART has worked alongside the Taos Coalition to End Homelessness to ensure that people who walk in their door are also connected with the other organizations in town that also offer resources for homeless people, such as Taos Men's Shelter, Community Against Violence, DreamTree Project and Inside Out Recovery. None of those existing services, however, specifically serve homeless women.

Nationally and locally, the majority of people experiencing homelessness are men, but the local coalition believes the number of homeless women in Taos is still high enough to justify a dedicated shelter to serve them.

According to the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, 100 people were homeless in Taos this past January.

Taos Men's Shelter Night Monitor Brian Price, who himself was once homeless, said a woman's experience of being on the street is also much more dangerous than it is for most men.

"The women who are in town - particularly in the winter time - it's not easy on them. They are victimized a lot," he said. "Women have to endure much more sexual aggression. They sometimes have to sleep with people to get a room for the night."

Although women cannot stay at the men's shelter, Price said he sees an average of around four to six women per week stopping by looking for a place to spend the night. In October, a homeless woman spent at least one night wrapped up in a sleeping bag in a field across from the men's shelter on Albright Street.

But unless a homeless woman is also fleeing a domestic violence situation, she typically cannot stay at CAV, and unless she meets the age requirements, she can't stay at DreamTree Project, which primarily serves teens and young adults.

Particularly during the winter months, Price and other staff recommend homeless women make their way south to Santa Fe, where the weather is warmer and more services are available to serve them.

Park says that a local option will be available next Tuesday in Taos, but whether HEART can attract the funds to keep it open in the long run remains a big question.

Heart of Taos

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