On Monday evening (March 23), several of Taos County’s homeless men and women took up seats outside Taos Men’s Shelter eating hot noodles and pot roast off paper plates. The meal was donated by a local family who agreed to prepare the free-to-all dinner for which the men’s shelter is widely known – and will continue to serve in spite of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The shelter is still open and will remain open, unless we are told to shut down by the state,” said Brian Price, the shelter’s night monitor, who used to be homeless himself. “To comply with new rules on social distancing and maximum capacity, we are currently only letting overnight guests inside the building.”
Dinner guests must also remain outside, giving the yard in front of the men’s shelter on Albright Street the appearance of an open-air restaurant, with the front stoop of the trailer and hoods of cars serving as seating for the diners.
While the 14-bed shelter is remaining open for men who need a bed and have nowhere else to go, Price said he has been encouraging the men and women he sees on the streets to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, urging them to substitute the handshake or hug they might typically use to greet someone for an elbow bump, fist bump or a wave.
Contact the shelter at taosmensshelter.org or (575) 779-9198.
All of Taos County’s shelters have made a few changes in light of the COVID-19 crisis, but are remaining open to serve populations still wrestling with other problems that haven’t ceased amid the viral outbreak spreading across New Mexico.
HEART of Taos
Across town, HEART of Taos is housing 10 women and children at its shelter on Lower Ranchitos Road, but for the time being it is not accepting any new clients.
“In response to the state of emergency declaration, HEART House is proactively working to assist in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” said Kim Park, the organization’s executive director. “HEART is putting a hold on visitors, tours and events at the house for at least the next three weeks.”
Park, the organization’s second director since 2016, opened the long-awaited shelter in November with just $80,000. Facing an annual budget of around $368,000 was daunting back then, but with the rapid slide of the economy amid COVID-19, she’s even more concerned about funding.
“We simply wanted to be able to operate our first year and now we are dealing with a pandemic,” Park said. “We are doing everything we can at our limited capacity.”
“HEART is still seeking funding for its first year in operations – we hope the community will continue to support us especially during these times,” she went on. “We applied for the County RFP [Request for Proposal], Taos Community Foundation’s Women Give Taos and Impact grants, Chase Foundation, Richard B. Siegel Foundation, Chevron Grant, etc. We continue to seek private grants and funding to support HEART House’s operations.”
But her primary focus is on the safety and well-being of the women and children in her care. Her staff has placed notices from the New Mexico Department of Health around the shelter, advising them on proper hygiene to avoid becoming infected with the virus. She also spoke with each guest to urge them to avoid public places where the virus can easily spread on frequently touched surfaces and through droplets in the air when someone coughs.
Contact heartoftaos.org or (575) 776-4245.
Community Against Violence
While a week ago much of its staff transitioned to working mainly from home, Community Against Violence is also continuing to operate.
“We went to a skeleton crew, but they’ve been working around the clock,” said executive director Malinda Williams. “We are continuing to provide shelter, crisis response and advocacy and we still have our crisis line open, which is (575) 758-9888.”
Like most organizations, however, CAV is also absorbing a significant financial hit since it closed its thrift store on Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Williams estimates the secondhand goods operation generates about 10 percent of the organization’s revenue, and she hopes to see CAV’s retail revenue rise when it opens a much larger store a few miles down the road at the former location of TeamBuilders Counseling Services.
The majority of CAV’s revenues, though, come from private funders and grants. Williams is working with what she has to make sure that the organization’s most critical, emergency services don’t lapse during a time when many families stuck at home together could be primed for conflict.
“Our experience in the past is that during times of crisis and isolation interpersonal violence rises – the numbers rise,” she said.
Her staff is continuing to assist people in filing for protection orders, court cases are continuing to move forward and child abuse safe room interviews are still being conducted across the seven counties CAV serves.
It’s emergency shelter for battered women and children is also operating, but staff there is also adjusting housing to ensure adequate social distancing to avoid illness.
Taos’ shelter for teens and young adults is also still open for business, said development and outreach coordinator Irene Loy.
“DreamTree is continuing to offer housing services to youth in crisis during this time,” Loy said. “Shelter is an essential service, so we continue to accept referrals for youth who need a place to stay. To protect our youth and staff, we are also observing a closed campus to visitors at this time.”
DreamTree operates apartments near its offices on La Posta Road for people from ages 16 to 24 and an emergency youth shelter for its younger clients, ages 12-17. Contact dreamtreeproject.org or (575) 758-9595.
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