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There but for the grace of God

Assisting Raton’s unhomed

by Sharon Niederman
RATON — Sally Chavez is on call. As the organizer of St. Vincent de Paul in Raton, a lay arm of St. Patrick and St. Joseph’s Church, she is available 24/7 to those who one way or another find themselves cold, hungry, and unsheltered in Raton.
“We never judge and we never question,” she says. “The way I see it is: There but for the grace of God go I.”
“We assist all.  Many are running from abuse. Others are traveling through, seeking a shelter situation. Often they are referred to us by the police. We find them a place to stay, a motel room, provide warm clothing, and get them food, often meals at McDonald’s. If they are passing through, we find them transportation out of town by bus or train,” Chavez says. She assists at least three people each week who find their way to her.

The organization subsists on money earned from its thrift store at 4th and Apache, donations, and support through church collections.

Sally packs and hands out donated suitcases, one by one, filled with a warm blanket, clothing, and food.
In addition to assisting people on the move, the program Chavez serves also assists two hundred people living in Raton with water, heat, gas, and medicine. “People are really in need,” she says.

Provisional Haven Program
“We ought to redefine homelessness,” says Dr. Rodney Gross, CEO of Noesis, a licensed behavioral health agency delivering comprehensive clinical and community services.

He runs a haven across from Miners Colfax Medical Center that houses four to five people that is “not a group home and not a safe house, rather, it operates on a clinical model” for those motivated to work toward a GED and driver’s license, and to receive medical and dental services through Medicaid.  A commitment to the program requires four hours of treatment daily.

For those who refuse services, Noesis can help with transitional housing and also by helping them get back on their feet. Many people he sees are repeat offenders, and many are just out of detention. Veterans make up as much as one-quarter of this population. If they are vets, he can help them get veterans’ benefits.

Noesis operates with an MOU with MCMC and receives people discharged from the emergency room. Although focused in Raton, Noesis reaches out throughout the county.  Gross estimates there is a population of 75-80 who may be sheltering in abandoned buildings and motels here. (Calls made to Raton Police to verify this number were not returned.)
“Many have made bad choices and are just trying to survive. Drug problems go hand and hand with being unhomed,” he says. “Some people just need some support,” he says. “You can’t just give people stuff, and you can’t force them to change. You have to build trust and they have to want to change.”

“We see the full spectrum,” he says. “Being unhomed does not discriminate. Some are from established families, while others never had a chance in life.”

Homeless Liaison
K-6 grade school counselor Tenelle Phillips also serves as Homeless Liaison for Raton Public Schools, a position that, while required by Federal law, is unfunded.  She works as case manager for fourteen students identified as those who may have a roof over their heads, though it may be a camper roof, and who may be doubling up living with relatives or neighbors. “They may have gotten kicked out of their homes or their parent may have gone to jail, or their home may be uninhabitable” she says. While many Raton children are raised by grandparents, she is on the lookout for those who may have recently relocated to grandparents’ homes.

Her job is to ensure these students receive their education and all materials they need for their studies. Her program assists with tutoring, services, and anything related to academics.

“We provide bus transportation and food programs,” she says, and she counts on bus drivers and other staff to be “the eyes and ears” of children in need of assistance. “We do not define homeless as those living on the streets,” she says.
She relies on school funds and volunteer donations from teachers to provide for these students’ needs.

Youth Heartline
Twice a week, Danielle Vanderpool and Misty Gomez of Youth Heartline go out on the streets to search out people in need of help. Their Street Outreach program provides resources and materials such as blankets, food, sleeping bags, and tents. They serve both Colfax and Union counties. Masks, thermos bottles, and blankets are much appreciated by those in need.
They collaborate with faith-based organizations such as Bridge to Hope of the First Baptist Church; Family Worship Center; Mesa Church, First Presbyterian’s food pantry, and other ministries.

“We’ve seen quite an increase over the past two years,” Vanderpool says. They also receive referrals from judges and social welfare agencies.

In addition, Youth Heartline operates the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program serving a population aged 16-24. Through this program, they are able to provide housing and case management.

Other assistance programs in Raton include grocery distributions at the First Presbyterian Church every other Wednesday, Hungry Hearts lunch every Saturday at All Saints Catholic School at 4th and Apache, and the food depot at City Market every third Thursday.