On the Road to Recovery

Community Shelter launches mobile services

Interfaith Community Shelter Executive Director Korina Lopez says conversations with the city to utilize the mobile hygiene unit began approximately one year ago. (Evan Chandler)

The sun peeked briefly through the clouds onto the parking lot behind Healthcare for the Homeless Monday, where a white trailer bearing a blue and yellow “SHOWERS TO GO” sign with three bathrooms—one handicap accessible—sat. A few unhoused individuals showered and were offered food while Jon Singh, a case manager, approached them to offer additional services.

The Interfaith Community Shelter, which runs the Pete’s Place shelter on Cerrillos Road in a city building, this week launches a twice-weekly mobile support unit that will target locations within city limits during the day. Executive Director Korina Lopez tells SFR the shelter spent roughly a year preparing before “taking the show on the road.” The new program, she says, will focus on bringing the shelter’s daytime services to those in need.

“It’s really addressing, for us, our own population that we serve the most,” Lopez says. “We’re a low-barrier shelter, so for us, it’s like, ‘What more can we do to help our community [and] to help engage guests?’”

At the same time, Lopez says the organization hopes the mobile unit will help reach people who are harder to serve, such as those who avoid the brick and mortar shelter for various reasons, because “that’s our target population,” she says.

To mark the launch, Lopez will host an event at 9 am, March 21 at Salvation Army (525 W Alameda Street) at which attendees will be able to view inside the trailer-like structure to see its showers and bathrooms.

“We do want to celebrate this, but for the guests who will be accessing those services, we also want to keep it low-key so that they can privately connect to the services,” Lopez says. “There’s still a lot of stigma around being homeless, and I definitely don’t want to create a situation where people feel further stigmatized with all eyes on them because they’re wanting to go take a shower.”

The latest count from the city places the number of unhoused individuals in Santa Fe at 374. The mobile shelter is just the latest way in which advocates and officials are seeking to bring new amenities and resources to its homeless population.

City officials in March 2023 approved a plan to purchase 25 pallet homes to erect safe sites with $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. The governing body then approved contracts in December 2023 with Christ Lutheran Church and The Life Link for a pilot Safe Outdoor Space project that will use 10 of the structures. The Interfaith Community Shelter applied to oversee operations for the pilot, but was not selected by the city and thus shifted its focus to the mobile unit, Lopez previously told SFR.

Much like its Pete’s Place location, the shelter will lease the mobile hygiene unit from the City of Santa Fe. Mayor Alan Webber tells SFR reducing homelessness requires many different strategies, such as deployment of the mobile hygiene unit.

“One of the things that we are continually confronted by is people who are experiencing homelessness don’t have hygiene facilities,” Webber says. “If you could imagine being in that circumstance yourself: wanting to have dignity but having very little opportunity to live a life with dignity because of very simple amenities that we take for granted…It adds to the burden of being unhoused.”

The mayor says he forecasts positive outcomes for more than just the unhoused as a result of the mobile services program.

“I think getting it into use will be good for the community. I think people who are compassionate toward people who are experiencing homelessness but also are concerned about some of the behaviors that are part of being homeless—this speaks to their concerns,” Webber says. “It helps the people who are homeless. They don’t have to try to find a place to clean up or go to the bathroom—it’ll be available—and at the same time we’ll be able to do what Interfaith wants to do, which is more outreach.”

Webber says the one-year lease also includes a renewal clause, meaning “it probably will turn into a two-year project.” To operate the unit, the Interfaith Community Shelter received a nearly $200,000 grant from the state’s Department of Health in July 2023. Hepatitis and Harm Reduction Program Manager Josh Swatek, who will also attend the launch event, tells SFR he led Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s mobile homelessness initiative, which allocated the money received from the Legislature to several service providers.

“I think it’s a really exciting program that we can reach and interact with a lot of people in Santa Fe but also throughout the entire state,” Swatek says.

Project organizers looked to “build capacity and mobile services outside the Albuquerque area,” so that those in non-urban communities have resources closer to home, he adds.

“Sometimes in rural New Mexico, we know transportation is difficult. We also know that it’s hard for people to go from place to place during certain times. Mobile services really bridge a gap between when someone is unsheltered or living outside of shelters, and we’re bringing services directly to them,” Swatek says. “It also helps us build relationships with community members [and] with folks who maybe aren’t housed so we can provide assistance to them…It’s really a lifeline in many circumstances.”

The mobile hygiene unit will run Mondays and Thursdays from 10 am to 2 pm. On Mondays, people can find the unit outside of La Familia Medical Center’s Healthcare for the Homeless off Cerrillos Road. The unit will spend Thursdays stationed outside the Salvation Army on Alameda Street.

“It’ll be interesting,” Lopez says. “It is somewhat of a pilot program, so we’re kind of excited to see what happens.”

Mobile Hygiene Unit Location and Hours

Monday: 10 am to 2 pm, Healthcare for the Homeless (1532 B Cerrillos Road)

Thursday: 10 am to 2 pm, Salvation Army (525 W Alameda Street)

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