Espanola Pathways Shelter board chair Ralph Martinez, left, and quarantine campground guest John P. Lopez chat behind the shelter Saturday morning. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
A row of tents along the side of the parking lot outside the Espanola Pathways Shelter, which provided a quarantine location for homeless people since the COVID-19 crisis hit Rio Arriba County, is slated to be vacated Monday. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Espanola Pathways Shelter co-founder and board chair Ralph Martinez points out renovation and fire alarm system work Saturday morning at the shelter. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
John P. Lopez, left, and Ralph Martinez discuss ideas Lopez has for a mural outside the Espanola Pathways Shelter. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
PMI project manager Lonnie Serrano, second from right, and Gerald Archuleta, far right, present a check for $10,000 to Espanola Pathways Shelter board chair Ralph Martinez and shelter manager Shannon Baum Saturday morning in memory of Felisha Barela who died June 27 in a tragic vehicle accident. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Preventive Maintenance Inc. (PMI) of Espanola made a generous donation of $10,000 Saturday to Espanola Pathways Shelter in memory of Felisha Barela, who along with her partner Justice Gutierrez-Cruz, died June 27 in a tragic vehicle accident north of Espanola.
Barela worked for PMI at Los Alamos National Laboratory on the PMI TPS KleanTech custodial services contract. PMI owner Eric Quintana and staff have been shocked and saddened by her loss and Quintana wanted to do something special to honor her memory.
Espanola Pathways Shelter co-founder and board chair Ralph Martinez said the PMI donation in Barela’s name will honor her by helping the shelter save the lives of vulnerable people in the community by assisting them on their way from homelessness into a stable lifestyle.
“Felisha’s death, which is so devastating to her family, friends and colleagues, will through this donation help the lives of many others,” Martinez said. “We are extremely grateful and will put it to good use as we continue to renovate the shelter building.”
On a walk-through of the building at 927 N. Riverside Drive, Martinez showed PMI project manager Lonnie Serrano and custodial foreman Gerald Archuleta the three new windows installed to meet the egress requirements mandated by the City of Espanola. He said the windows fell within the shelter’s budget, however, after the permit was obtained for other renovations, the state fire marshal determined that a fire alarm system and fire suppression system were needed before people could be housed overnight.
“We hadn’t planned for or anticipated that, so we had to start shifting monies around. It was around the time when COVID hit so it was a good time to shift over to the designers as we were not allowed to house homeless people in the building. The fire alarm system is currently being installed and the fire suppression system is next and once those two systems are in place we can finish the remainder of the renovations and get our certificate of occupancy to open the shelter,” Martinez said.
A quarantine campsite around the perimeter of the shelter parking lot is scheduled to close Monday at 5 p.m.
“The campsite was not within the parameters of our permit, but when COVID hit, the community turned to us and asked us what we were going to do for the homeless population because there was fear that the homeless would spread the virus. We jumped on conference calls with shelters across the nation to see what they were doing. Everybody was wondering what to do, even organizations that had been functioning for 30 years. Some places had buildings that were suitable for quarantine but ours was not,” Martinez said.
The shelter already had a director, a shelter manager and other staff on board so the decision was made to continue to provide whatever services they could without housing people in the building.
“We started handing out tents because we knew people were going to need a place to call home and that wherever they took it and set it up they would have a place to stay. A lot of people did not have tents and some had makeshift tents and so the question was what if they start finding our parking lot as a comfort zone. Food, hygiene supplies and other items were being distributed Tuesdays through Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. We decided to let people set up their tents around the parking lot and brought in portable toilets and eventually a portable shower,” Martinez said.
It was outside what was allowed by the permit, but something had to be done, he said.
“As I told the other board members, we need to know when to grab on and when to let go. And it’s come to the time to let go. So the quarantine campground is closing down July 6 and we’re shifting our focus back over to the shelter to get those doors open,” Martinez said.
Renovations at the shelter are being coordinated by volunteer Mateo Peixinho of Avanyu LLC General Contracting.
Meanwhile shelter staff are continuing to help homeless people have access to food, get tested for COVID. They also help get people into rehab and transitional housing, obtaining food stamps, new identification and employment.
“They are also gathering information on the demographics of the homeless population – who they are, how they ended up homeless, what are their ages, are they male or female, are they above 40 or below 40, are any of them veterans, do they have children and where are the children. When the shelter opens, all this information will be collected by case managers during the intake process here,” Martinez said.
He noted that until a week ago, none of the guests had been inside the shelter building.
“They’ve heard about it and they’ve seen construction workers going in and out, but because of COVID they had not been allowed into the building. So last Monday when I made the decision to end the camp, I came in the morning to talk to all the guests. I asked them if they would like to see the inside of the building, what’s been done, what we’re doing and hear about what we’re going to do,” Martinez said. “Of course everybody wanted to check it out, so I brought them in one at a time and gave them the whole tour, and in the end, they were excited about having a place to sleep and a shower. I told them in order for us to get to that point we had to let go of the campground. They totally understood because they see the bigger picture.”
When the shelter opens, staff will work with guests to help them with whatever they need to get them to a more stable life.
“This is the ‘Pathways’ focus of the shelter. Maybe someone needs a job and we can help them out with that. Maybe they need help to obtain a new driver’s license. Maybe they need to get a social security card and have to first get a copy of their birth certificate and that would be their first goal. But we’re not going to tell them to go get it and come back when they have it. We want to be side by side with them. We’ll help them make the appointments; we’ll help them get a ride to the appointment, we’ll get them the money they need in order to reach whatever goal they want to achieve,” Martinez said.
He said if a person comes to the shelter and doesn’t want to get on a plan, that’s fine too. If there’s a bed available, they can take that bed but it’s not promised to them the next day. If they come in late and it gets taken by somebody else or if someone gets on a goal plan and secures the bed, then that’s how it is.
Martinez is very excited about the fact that a nurse will be on duty overnight at the shelter when it opens to attend to anyone that shows up with an open wound, anyone that is not feeling well or whatever the case may be.
“The reason this is so important to us is that we want to catch individuals in the window of opportunity,” he said.
Windows of opportunity are moments of clarity entered during active addition. During these times, an addict may think about their life and desire to break free from addiction. Sometimes the windows last a few hours and other times they last a few days.
“If somebody wants to go to rehab, in order to do so they have to get a medical clearance. I know from when I was homeless and using, there are different times when people who are in that lifestyle just break physically and mentally and they need rehab right now,” Martinez said. “When I was in that situation I would ask what I needed to get a medical clearance. They would tell me to call a doctor or a clinic and when I called they would tell me to come in three days. Three days later I’m not thinking about rehab, I’m thinking about something different.”
For those windows of opportunity, he said the availability of medical triage is so important.
“If somebody steps out of bed at 2 o’clock in the morning and says they are ready to go to rehab and they want to go now, the nurse can give them a medical clearance. We have agreements with various facilities. We call it a ‘warm hand-off’ and we can call those facilities at any time of the day or night and if they have a bed available we can get someone there within the hour. That is capturing that window of opportunity,” Martinez said.
The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness is the fiscal agent for Espanola Pathways Shelter. Donations to the shelter project go to the Coalition and are then dispersed to the shelter to pay for operations. A huge part of the shelter’s success to date has been donations of goods volunteer work by members of the community at large.
The shelter opened briefly this past winter as a warming center and was allowed to bring up to 10 homeless people in from the cold overnight. They slept on mats on the floor. Bathrooms were available but no showers and no cooking was allowed. Volunteers opened the doors and worked the overnight shifts initially and later executive director Dena Moscola and shelter manager Shannon Baum were hired as well as staff to work the overnight shifts. Church groups from Espanola and Los Alamos provided cleaning supplies, toiletries, new clothing and more until COVID meant that the doors had to close. Businesses have chipped in to provide food and have held fundraisers to benefit the shelter.
“The community has been so responsive, supportive and generous to the shelter, donating goods and labor. Individuals and businesses have contributed in many ways to get us this far. Today’s generous donation by PMI in honor of Felisha Barela will be a huge help as we move closer to opening our doors than we have ever been,” Martinez said.
To donate to the shelter, go to espanolapathwaysshelter.org. To keep up with what is happening with the shelter project, check for volunteer opportunities or see what items are needed, visit the Espanola Pathways Shelter Facebook page. The shelter is located at 927 N. Riverside Drive at the rear of the building. The phone number is (505) 753-4453.