By LINDA HULL
Rotary Club Of Los Alamos
“The work began even before the doors opened,” recalled Ralph Martinez, co-founder of Española Pathways Shelter (EPS), the first homeless shelter in Española.
During the Feb. 23 zoom meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos, Martinez described how those doors opened permanently last month, but the urgency for this regional need was evident years before.
A native of Española and a 1996 graduate of Española High School, Martinez lost his home and his family just five years later when he spiraled into drug addiction. For six years he found shelter in vacant buildings, abandoned cars, and under a bridge in Española.
“I began piecing my life together in 2012,” Martinez said. “I was ready.”
A turning point in addressing the needs of homeless people came in November 2018 when Martinez spoke with three homeless men outside Walmart one frigid night. They all had once shared space on the Española streets. Even though he was warmly dressed at the time, “the feeling of cold hit my flesh,” Martinez said. He vividly remembered the bitter cold of 2007 when New Mexico was placed under a state of emergency due to blizzards and power outages.
After a sleepless night reflecting on the cold and those left in it, as he once had been, the very next morning he began contacting community leaders in city and county government, in the religious sector, and in charitable organizations. At the time, the only one who responded immediately was Roger Montoya, artistic director and co-founder of Moving Arts Española.
Montoya was elected in November 2020 as State Representative, District 40.
Together Martinez and Montoya reached out to the directors of local shelters. All were “eager to help.”
Located at 628 Riverside Drive, in the shopping center where Aaron’s Furniture was located, the shelter has an Española address, but is located on Santa Fe County property so may accommodate homeless people from both counties. Martinez spoke highly of the support given by Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal.
The building required many tenant improvements, but opened last year as a “warming center,” which Martinez described as a shelter only open to homeless people in wet or cold weather.
Homeless people may check into EPS between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. and are asked to check out at 8 a.m. A dinner is provided, and showers and laundry facilities are available as well as care management. Currently the shelter can house 10 women and 10 men in separate dormitories; there are two separate units for families. So far EPS has had as many as nine men seeking overnight shelter and seven women. Fourteen homeless people are in transitional housing. All who are interested may seek help with permanent housing, job placement, transportation needs, and document acquisition. The CARES Act has provided funding to help secure hotel rooms for 45 homeless people; at least 73 people are in need.
“Recovery can’t be forced,” Martinez noted. “Everyone reaches a different breaking point and level of understanding.” For that reason, the EPS model is based upon giving homeless guests first, a warm and safe place to spend the night; second, providing help as “the seeds for recovery are planted.” It is a matter of “personal trial and error” with trust an important factor.
By collecting data, part of the EPS model, Martinez says they are “shining a light” on misconceptions. In one discussion, the homeless men participating agreed that they “needed sleep even more than food or shelter.” Martinez said he is often asked, “Why don’t they just get a job?” He replies that even though entry-level jobs are often available, homeless people have very few, if any, options to shower, to wash or replace their street clothes, to prepare for an interview, to get to the job, to file paperwork, to open a bank account. In general, they have lost everything that the wholeness of a home represents: the shelter itself, family and moral support, educational opportunities, transportation, and basic amenities.
Monetary donations are always gratefully accepted, as are donations of office and cleaning supplies, hygiene products, socks and underwear, and personal protective equipment, especially masks. If you are interested in learning more about Española Pathways Shelter click here.
As Maire O’Neill, editor of the Los Alamos Reporter and a EPS volunteer shared during the Rotary meeting, “It’s an amazing place led by amazing people and filling an urgent need.”
Ralph Martinez was born and raised in Española. After committing to rehabilitation from his drug addiction, he found work at a local gas station and eventually saved enough money to buy a car. He earned his commercial driver’s license and purchased his own tractor-trailer through the generosity of his brother who co-signed a loan even though the two had once been estranged. Martinez has since built a home next to his mother and has worked at LANL for five years where he holds a Q clearance.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its Club Foundation, is a 501(c)3 non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
To learn more about the Rotary Club of Los Alamos and its charitable service, President Laura Gonzales at 505.699.5880 or Membership Chair Skip King at 505.662.8832.