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Official says Rivers of Life is rebuilding connections; For now, no new residents will be allowed and will be referred elsewhere

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Rivers of Life is experiencing a financial deficit, says its board president. The nonprofit operates this homeless shelter for men on East Albuquerque Street and a women's and children's facility on East Bland Street. No new residents are being allowed in, the board president said, and all current residents will be relocated by Oct. 15 so that the shelters can close while the organization undergoes "reorganization and restructuring." (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Rivers of Life nonprofit group has been meeting with individuals and community organizations to seek assistance with its homeless shelters and its financial deficit, said the president of its board of directors.

“Sitting down with some of the other concerned individuals and groups in the city, they will help us to figure out what we need to do both financially and organizationally,” said Donna Chappell, a retired early childhood development specialist who says she has been a volunteer and board member with the group for a little less than a year.

Chappell said that the efforts are still in the early stages and that she cannot specify at this time which groups are working with the nonprofit.

Incorporated in 2003, Rivers of Life International Inc. runs a men’s facility for the homeless on East Albuquerque Street and a women’s and children’s facility on East Bland Street. Fifteen men and about 30 women and children were living at the shelters as of last week, Cathy Quintana, manager of the women’s shelter, said at that time.

Board members Chappell and Jeanette Schaffer issued a statement Sept. 16 indicating that the shelters would close “as a temporary measure” by Oct. 15, with plans to reopen in the near future.

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According to Chappell, the vote was unanimous among the six board members. But one board member, Stella Franco, an honorary board chair with voting rights and one of the founders of the group, had expressed her wish in a Sept. 16 interview that the facilities would not close.

Chappell said the board is united in wanting the shelters to continue operating, indicating that she considers them important to the Roswell community and homeless people.

“Every single board member is committed to the shelters being reopened,” she said, “but we were also seeing the need for changes.”

Chappell said that some people have moved out of the facilities, with most finding their own arrangements.

“We still do have people at the shelter … I understand that some of them have found places to stay and have moved out,” Chappell said. “I am not sure again how many.”

A man at the men’s shelter declined to talk Friday, referring questions to the women’s shelter. No one responded to the door of the women’s shelter Friday and phone calls were not answered by press time.

Chappell said that some people in the community have contacted the organization to indicate their willingness to assist in relocations if necessary. She said Rivers of Life is working with residents who want referrals to mental health services or to other types of housing. She added that no new residents will be allowed to stay if they show up at the shelters, but instead would be referred to the Roswell Refuge, for those recovering from abuse, or to other resources.

“If anyone has a place to offer,” she said. “We would be glad to add them to the list of where we would refer people to.”

Chappell said Rivers of Life owes money, but she declined to give specifics. She also said that she could not say at this time how much might be needed to reopen the shelters after October. Financial records for the nonprofit requested Sept. 19 had not been provided by press time, although Chappell and Schaffer have indicated the group’s willingness to provide them.

The organization did file at least two 990s with the Internal Revenue Service. A 2008 filing showed revenues of $58,309 for that year and total expenses of $16,393. A 2012 filing reported revenues of $105,810 received from 2010 to 2012 and expenses of $36,057 for that tax year.

Chappell said lack of funding “is a big part of our problem.”

“We have to have the funding to make the improvements that are needed,” she said.

She said that needed changes include more expert and professional help to assist residents to achieve healthy, safe and strong lives physically, emotionally and spiritually.

“We are a temporary, emergency shelter,” she said, “But because Roswell does not have the necessary resources to meet all of the needs of the homeless … we have had to provide more extensive time frames to people who might have needed some other help.”

She said the shelters should be only one piece in the puzzle in solving the problems of homelessness, but that, for the most part, Roswell lacks the other puzzle pieces, such as transitional housing where people can live for extended periods while they overcome problems of addictions or other issues.

Chappell said that she hopes that Rivers of Life, with the help of others, will be able to offer “excellent” shelters and services in the future.

“We are trying to reconnect with the community to rebuild the support,” she said, “to show them that we are aware of needs we have and that we are working to address those needs and to make the changes that are necessary to have this be a healthy, strong program.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.