A Campus for the Homeless

Coalition of providersproposes a bigger, bettercenter for homeless services

At the beginning of the decade, an interfaith nonprofit converted a former pet store into an emergency homeless shelter that would serve as a “one-stop shop” for social services. Grab a meal. See a nurse. Go to court.

Santa Fe covered the bill for the building, about $1 million, and continues forking over tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep its lights on and staff paid. Pete's Place, as the facility is known, helped to check a couple boxes in a five-year plan to end homelessness in the city initiated by former mayor David Coss.

But for some in the community, there's still a void to be filled. Pete's Place opens only during the winter for men. (As of May 2016, the shelter is open all year for women.) And with just 6,500 square feet, including parking, there are no permanent or transitional housing options on premises. Tight quarters and limited resources at Pete's seemed to hinder the dream of a "one-stop shop."

Recently, a group of providers led by St. Elizabeth Shelters and La Familia Medical Center's Healthcare for the Homeless started dreaming up a bigger, more comprehensive campus for the city's homeless. Housing would be available, both transitional and permanent. Services, too—from education programs to substance abuse treatment.

Suby Bowden and Associates, a local architecture firm, started working pro bono on preliminary designs for a "One Door" campus, which would provide space for nonprofits to set up shop. Bowden likens the concept to a mall, wherein organizations would operate independently in a larger center devoted to one mission.

"Pete's Place has the same concept, but they have very limited space," says project coordinator Sunil Sakhalkar of Bowden and Associates. "The main difference that we are trying to do here is create space."

One Door's organizers are eyeing a 15- to 20-acre patch of city land, located in a section known as the Northwest Quadrant, to develop the campus. That's at least 100 times the size of Pete's Place. City government once planned on developing an affordable housing subdivision at the proposed location, north of Highway 599, but that project never got off the ground.

Notably absent from the planning is the group that headlines Pete's Place: Interfaith Community Shelters. Daniel Yohalem, vice chair of its board, says he gathered from meetings that the One Door campus doesn't intend to offer emergency shelter services like those offered at the Cerrillos Road location. He says Interfaith is concerned about the convenience of the proposed location for the campus and whether it would replicate services.

"If the point of that model is that all shelters and services will be collapsed into one campus in Santa Fe, I frankly don't think that's a great idea," he says. "I seriously doubt people will come."

Sakhalkar maintains that the campus would most likely provide emergency shelter, but the One Door organization would not ask providers to move to the location if it's not feasible. Rather, they would offer satellite space for them to deliver services. "We don't want to step on anyone's toes," Sakhalkar says. "We want everybody to work with us."

Deborah Tang, executive director of St. Elizabeth Shelters, tells SFR that was one of the driving ideas behind the project. "Healthcare for the Homeless wants to have all their services, lock, stock and barrel. There's not enough room at Pete's Place even for that, much less all the services that we want," she says.

Homeless people still often cross the city to meet their needs, according to Gaile Herling, co-founder of Adelante, a Santa Fe Public Schools program catering to homeless youth and families. She gives the example of the New Mexico Human Services Department's Income Support Division, the main location for signing up for food stamps and other benefits, which is located about five miles south of Pete's Place, across from The Santa Fe New Mexican's printing press.

"They have to deal with getting a bus out there, the right schedule. If they miss one document, that's it. That's a lost trip," Herling says. "Say you receive a gas voucher. Some people waste their gas money trying to go back and forth because they've put Human Services way out on the edge of town instead of the center of town."

Mayor Javier Gonzales says he encourages any effort to enhance services for the city's hundreds of homeless individuals. But as far as committing city land or dollars to the proposed One Door project, the mayor says a lot of work needs to be done first. "When it comes to some kind of definitive point where the group is ready to propose something unified amongst all the organizations, then we can have the conversation about city resources," Gonzales tells SFR.

One of One Door's biggest influences is a campus-based homeless center in San Antonio called Haven for Hope, where 30 providers deliver services on 22 acres of land downtown. Haven for Hope is sending a delegation to Santa Fe this week for a three-day workshop about the One Door project, including a public event on Nov. 10.

Scott Ackerson, the vice president for strategic relations at Haven for Hope, says he plans to talk about what worked and what didn't in San Antonio, a city of 1.3 million with an estimated homeless population of 2,900. Ackerson tells SFR that the organization switched from a "one-size-fits-all" model to an approach that took more consideration of each client's unique situation. One person's homelessness may be rooted in a history of abuse. Another's may be short-lived, the result of a bad break.

"Homelessness is not a homogenous phenomenon. You can't treat people the same way. There's not one identical service plan," he says.

Ackerson also notes that the organization faced some pushback from neighbors of the campus. A report from the San Antonio Express-News found that 911 calls from a two-mile radius around the center went up by 42 percent two years after it opened.

The One Door group says it plans on applying for grants to fund the proposal, as well as requesting cash from city, county and state sources. About 60 percent of Haven for Hope's financing comes from private donors.

Haven for Hope Lecture
7-8:30 pm Thursday Nov. 10. Free.
Santa Fe Woman's Club,
1616 Old Pecos Trail

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