Santa Fe’s newest shelter was not designed to be a permanent fixture in the city—the original name, Midtown Emergency Shelter, said so much.
When the city established the Midtown shelter in March 2020 in buildings that formerly served as college dorms, the initial purpose of the temporary housing was to provide individuals with a place to quarantine or isolate from the coronavirus that many feared would run rampant through Santa Fe’s unhoused population.
As the year progressed, the shelter developed a better understanding of the greatest needs and Consuelo’s Place was born. The city handed over management of the shelter to the nonprofit New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness last summer when the focus shifted from providing emergency services to also helping clients secure more permanent housing.
This week, the city decided the shelter’s work is far from complete. On Wednesday, the City Council extended the contract with the coalition, allocating $965,000 to pay for the shelter’s continued operation until July 2022.
Part of the Midtown shelter’s success, explains Mark Oldknow, coalition associate director, was providing another alternative for unhoused individuals to access services.
Oldknow tells SFR Consuelo’s Place, “set a foundation for accommodating our growing homeless population and offering different doors so people can come into the system, stabilize, settle down...and then hopefully move them onto more permanent solutions.”
The extension of the shelter’s contract comes as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in New Mexico.
“We don’t really know that we can return to business as usual,” Community Services Department Director Kyra Ochoa tells SFR, noting the pandemic still poses a threat to this population and the community at large.
“And we never really ever want to return to business as usual when it comes to homelessness. We’re really trying to address and end homelessness in Santa Fe.”
The coalition landed on the name Consuelo’s Place, after the late Taos County social worker Consuelo Ochoa—also Kyra Ochoa’s mother-in-law. The name has a second meaning, “comfort,” when translated from Spanish.
Ochoa highlights one of the advantages of the Midtown shelter: “We could offer people a place to be and then offer them services including vaccinations.” Although she doesn’t give exclusive credit to the efforts of the emergency shelter, she believes the services did—to some degree—mitigate the spread of the disease among the city’s homeless population.
“Santa Fe had no COVID outbreaks at our shelters,” says Ochoa.
Korina Lopez, the shelter manager at Consuelo’s Place, says one of the particularly successful components of the shelter has been on-site case management service throughout the pandemic.
“It can be really challenging, especially for the homeless population, with cell phones, with having WiFi connecting, maintaining those schedules...remotely,” Lopez tells SFR that providing services in person helped clients take the steps necessary to secure more permanent housing situations.
Of the 419 clients Consuelo’s Place has served since opening its doors as an emergency shelter in March 2020, Lopez says roughly 25% have been connected to stable housing.
“We’ve been successful because of the collaboration partnerships,” says Lopez. She explains those partnerships—between the city, county, organizations and other shelters—enabled Consuelo’s Place to navigate the complexities of securing affordable housing.
Lopez wants the public to understand the intricacies of housing people. Her work, like helping clients obtain birth certificates or giving individuals phone cards as a reliable method of communication, requires significant coordination between governmental and nonprofit entities.
Oldknow says Santa Fe has never had sufficient services for people experiencing homelessness but Consuelo’s Place offers another option to increase the city’s ability to move people into more appropriate, permanent housing.
He points out the heightened need to serve clients with particular vulnerabilities—individuals heavily using drugs or those with mental health issues. When shelters can’t provide for these individuals, they end up on the streets with no other options.
The city owns a building on Cerrillos Road where the Interfaith Community Shelter group runs Pete’s Place. St. Elizabeth’s is another area nonprofit that operates an overnight emergency shelter.
Oldknow adds that there are a number of people experiencing homelessness who “simply don’t want to go to a shelter.” The reasons for which, he explains, can range from fears of the coronavirus to the challenges of living in shelters.
“There’s no such thing as an absolutely common kind of homelessness,” says Oldknow. He says, the city needs to be willing to entertain new ideas about how to serve all the residents of Santa Fe, “People, when they want to get out of homelessness, have their own sense of what kind of doors they want to knock on...and who they take it from.”