Roger Montoya, United Way of Northern New Mexico community liaison, far right, questions three members of the Espanola homeless community during the Espanola Pathway’s Shelter meeting May 13 in Espanola. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
At last Monday’s Espanola Pathway’s Shelter meeting United Way of Northern New Mexico community liaison Roger Montoya asked three Espanola homeless men what the shelter would mean to them and what service would be most critical to them to help get to the next step up. The fact that sleep was the first thing that came to these men’s minds may surprise many people.
“It would be to give me that fresh start in the morning – to make me want to get up and want to do something with my life – to get that rest that we need. Just to wake up like a normal person and shower, get ready and go out into the world like everyone else does, instead of not sleeping for days, even weeks at a time, because it’s too cold or you don’t have anywhere to go,” the first speaker said. “It’s just scary really. Espanola is not the nicest place in the world. There’s a lot of crazy people out there. You always have to be on your toes and know what you are getting yourself into because you can step into the wrong place and never come out of it.”
It’s a scary place out there being on the streets,” he continued. “And if you don’t have a pretty strong head on your shoulders I don’t think you’re going to make it. A shelter would give us that fresh start in the morning, to get up and go look for a job and then people would see us when we are all clean, smell fresh, and then maybe someone would give us a job and not just look at us like we’re bad people.”
The second speaker said the shelter would give them the opportunity to start a routine, to progress.
“It would open up a lot of opportunities for us. Sobriety, for one. A place to stay, hope, education, knowing that you have somewhere to go,” he said. “There have been times that it has been so cold that you have to drink yourself to sleep. It would be nice to go to bed without being passed out and it would be nice to wake up not cold.”
The third speaker said the shelter would mean having a place to go to every night instead of sleeping on the street.
“I’m finding that it’s hard for me to find a place to lay my head. It’s breathtaking to think of being able to go to this shelter and have a place to sleep and have meals to fill your stomach and clear your mind instead of always having to think about where you’re going to get your next meal, where you’re going to get your next hustle. It would encourage people to go forward with their life and think about things like getting back on your feet,” he said.
The three men agreed it’s not just the shelter that would be important.
“It’s having the positive people in your life. It gives us the confidence to go and do the things that we don’t do because we’re embarrassed or scared because people look down on us,” one man said.
“Misconceptions are thick and the negativity is very thick and one of my hopes – and I’ve never been homeless – is to bring every piece in a menu to them, from education, to counseling to hygiene. Whatever level is needed to bring dignity and love to individuals would be my base goal,” Montoya said.
Ralph Martinez of the Espanola Pathway’s Shelter team, who spent several years as a homeless person, said people ask all the time why don’t they just go and get a job.
“It’s not that easy to go and apply for a job when you go a long time without a shower. You don’t even know what address to give them at that point. You think about this stuff when you’re sitting in your space. You think where do I even get started. That alone drives a person to go routes that they didn’t want to go in the first place because you kind of find yourself in that whirlpool going down,” he said. “Jail almost seemed like a blessing to me at the time. I had a place to stay, to fight whatever I was going through, to get my mind balanced again. I would get clean in jail and then I would get out ready to conquer the world because I felt good, I felt clean, I was taking showers every day, and I had a plan coming out of jail but then I got out and I had nowhere to go.”
“And that was hard because at that point you do your best to fight it in your mind and you say I’m going to push forward and I’m going to jump through the hoops that I have to,” Martinez said. “And then you find yourself back by the river in a tent with nothing all over again and there was never a Plan B, like where can I go to start this new life.”
The goal of the initiative is to provide homeless men and women access to viable pathways toward a more productive life. The objective is to establish a 20-bed, low-barrier shelter for men and woman ages 18 and above in the City of Española. The team is in dialogue with the Espanola City Manager, legal, planning, zoning and land use personnel about the implications of infrastructure, utilities, liability, public safety and other issues.
Martinez and others from the Espanola Pathway’s Shelter initiative will speak at the Voices of Los Alamos meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday evening at the Unitarian Church, 1738 N. Sage Loop. They are expected to give an overview of the proposed project and provide information on what types of assistance will be needed to keep initial costs for the shelter such as refurbishing portable buildings as low as possible.
To learn more about the project, visit the Espanola Pathway’s Shelter on Facebook.