Houses are plentiful, but doctors and social safety nets remain at a distance
Ask any Southside Santa Fe resident where they get most of their daily services and they'll likely tell you it's on the other side of town.
Marta Umaña, a mother of five who works as a janitor, laments that her children get their dental work at different clinics on different sides of town because her youngest children receive Social Security benefits and the rest don't.
Denisse Rodriguez, who cleans houses for a living, recalls a recent day when she had to juggle a maternity appointment at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, a doctor appointment for her 8-year-old daughter at La Familia and a dentist appointment at Adventure Dental on Cerrillos Road.
Both Umaña and Rodriguez say their kids need glasses, but neither can find an ophthalmologist to treat them.
It doesn't stop at health needs. Allegra Love, a liaison at Santa Fe Public Schools' Adelante Program, explains that most families that benefit from the organization's free $20 gas cards use a lot of that gas driving from their Southside homes to pick up the cards in Adelante's northside office location.
"They are driving clear up to this side of town for a gas card that's supposed to be meant to take their kids to school," Love says.
Both Adelante and Envision Santa Fe, a faithbased umbrella organization that seeks to end homelessness, are pushing for a place for children, youth and families to fulfill diverse needs like this at a “one-stop” location on the south west side of town. Over the next month, Envision will lobby the state Legislature for funding for Southside infrastructure that could help pave the way for such a facility for the community.
"Most human services agencies as well as those providing educational and social enrichment programs historically exist on the north and east sides of the city," reads Envision's legislative priority for the Southside funding. "A Southside center could provide a convenient, low cost, secondary location for the services and programs of such agencies."
Rebecca Baran-Rees, a project coordinator with Envision, says the group is currently putting together justification for a proposal that would ask the state for around $100,000 earmarked for infrastructure in the area.
But city Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who represents the area, says that the city and the nonprofits need to be careful about such efforts. In the past, Dominguez says, too many ambitious initiatives like the one-stop have been planned from the "top down" without properly seeking the needs of the community. The Zona del Sol buildings, he says, are the perfect example. If not done with enough community input, Dominguez says the efforts could lead to something "damaging and frustrating."
"If you build a one-stop shop, do we need rooms with beds in there? Do those folks need showers? Do they need a place to eat?" Dominguez asks.
A stroll inside Zona del Sol, a two-building facility located on Jaguar Drive just across the street from the Southside Library, reveals empty rooms and unfinished building plans. Though six organizations including Earth Care, a nonprofit that works with youth on environmental initiatives, use space from the facility during the week, Zona del Sol is known to many as the building that once housed Girls Inc. of Santa Fe.
A half-century-old organization that seeks to empower young women, Girls Inc.'s primary location is in downtown Santa Fe. In 2011, the nonprofit moved into an office in Zona del Sol after agreeing to manage Zona's main building. Six months into the process, however, Zona Executive Director Jim Leehan says the nonprofit realized it couldn't survive under its current setup. By the summer, Girls Inc. shuttered its second location due to a lack of funding.
Today, Leehan says Girls Inc. is looking for ways to once again provide services on the Southside. Still, he says the nonprofit is "financially struggling."
And Zona, for its part, can't afford anything like a "one-stop" on its own. Today, it generates money from the rent it charges as well as grants from the city. Leehan is the only paid staff person, and his work is part-time.
"You're charging rent to agencies who are already struggling financially, often to keep their offices in the north running, who want to serve this side of town and can't afford it," he says.
Both Adelante and Envision want to target Zona del Sol as a location for such a “one-stop,” but Dominguez says more needs to be done before the community jumps ahead with the idea. All three have participated in listening sessions in the community aimed at improving the area’s quality of life. Dominguez says that the true blueprint for services could come out of these sessions, which will likely occur through the summer.
"It's very obvious that there's a need out there," he says. "But it's going to require some effort and it's going to take some time to really pinpoint or identify the exact needs that folks out there need."