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Rivers of Life shelters facing uncertainty; Board officer says facilities will close, a founding director wants them to stay open

This women's homeless shelter on East Bland Street and a men's facility on East Albuquerque Street will close Oct. 15, at least temporarily, says the vice president of the Rivers of Life Board of Directors. But a founding director has said she will work to keep them open. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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An board officer with the Rivers of Life organization running two homeless shelters in Roswell has announced that the shelters will close, but another board member has vowed to keep them open.

Rivers of Life board member Stella Franco stands next to an inoperable oven in the women’s homeless shelter that she says she has spent $3,800 of her own money to replace. The new oven is expected to be delivered in a week or two. “I am not shutting down unless I die,” she says. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Jeanette Schaffer, vice president of the Rivers of Life Board of Directors, announced early Saturday morning in an email that the shelter would not accept any new residents effective immediately and would close for restructuring Oct. 15 for what board members hope will be a short time.
She said the decision came after a unanimous board vote Friday night.
“It was a hard decision,” she said. “None of us wanted it. We are totally broke and we don’t have community support. … We need people to help. We want it to run appropriately. Without their help, we are doing our best.”
However, another board member, Stella Franco, vowed that the shelter will remain open no matter what and said that the organization will continue to help people in need.
“No matter if we eat beans and ham hocks, this place is not shutting down,” she said. “Yes, we have no money, but we’ve had no money before and God has helped us. … They can put me in jail. They can do whatever, but it is going to stay open.”
Franco described herself as the founder of what she terms a ministry and said she was the original purchaser of the shelter buildings, which are now owned by Rivers of Life International Inc., according to Chaves County online property records. Franco is listed as the registered agent of the nonprofit corporation and as one of its directors.
Franco said she told board members that she did not want them to close the shelters or make people leave.
Schaffer’s written statement about the intended closing indicated that the board wants the shelter to reopen by winter.
“Effective immediately, Rivers of Life Homeless Shelter in Roswell, New Mexico, will be taking no more new guests. This is regrettable, but a lack of adequate funding is preventing the shelter from continuing its operations, and, therefore, it is being shut down as a temporary measure until changes are made and needed finances are obtained.
“An aggressive reorganization and restructuring are planned in order to improve the facilities and its operations. This cannot happen without the support of the community. It is vital for the doors of Roswell’s homeless shelter to open again. Funding and the backing of the people of the city of Roswell are the key to bringing these positive changes to the existing organizational structure that those needing the facilities can once again be served.
“Winter is coming and we would like to be able to provide a safe place for men, women and families who would otherwise be on the streets.

“Rivers of Life Homeless Shelter will cease operations on Oct. 15, 2017, until further notice. “
Schaffer said that current residents have been given 30 days’ notice to move. She also indicated that the decision affects both the men’s facility on East Albuquerque Street and the women’s building on East Bland Street.
“We are going to do our best (to find new locations for people),” she said, “but we can’t obligate ourselves because, if we can’t, we can’t have that kind of burden because we don’t have the resources. It is a temporary shelter. It is a homeless shelter. By giving them a 30 days’ notice, we are doing what we can.”
According to Franco and shelter manager Cathy Quintana, there are about 15 men in the men’s facility and 30 people, including four children, in the women’s facility. They both expressed the understanding that the board intended to close only the women’s facility.
“Where am I supposed to go? I am nowhere near where my home state is,” said shelter resident Catilyn Jalette. “This is my family.”
Schaffer said that the board will restructure the organization completely before reopening. Some plans include, she said, to secure more donations or funding and to train existing personnel or hire trained staff.
“This is such a needed shelter, but we don’t have funding. We don’t have people donating. We don’t have community support. We have people criticizing, but that is not helping. We are trying our best.”
Franco said that she has asked several times for board officers to provide an accounting of income and expenditures but that has never occurred. She also said that she has purchased with her own money a $3,800 industrial oven to replace the existing inoperable oven in the women’s facility, which also serves meals for the men. Franco said she expects that the new oven will be delivered within a week or two.
Franco said that the shelters are safe to live in, with electricity and water, and a look inside the pantry showed shelves of canned and bagged food. Residents also said that local restaurants have donated food in recent days.
One resident said that people living in the shelter have tried to raise funds through car washes in recent weeks, and they noted that no board members were ever involved in those efforts. Schaffer agreed that she had not participated and said she was unaware of when those events were held.
Rivers of Life was incorporated in 2003, according to state records. The shelter requires that guests participate in mandatory Bible study six days a week, according to Franco, who calls that activity “payment” for housing and food. The organization’s social media sites indicate that drug and alcohol use are not permitted, and the manager said that sometimes background checks are required before people are allowed to move in.
Schaffer said that the board vote had nothing to do with the decision Thursday night by the Roswell City Council to create a site for the homeless on city property near North Virginia Avenue and East 12th Street.
“In fact, we are really hoping that we will work together on that,” she said. “It was not about that at all. We are all wanting us to work in conjunction with one another on that.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.