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Homeless Coalition agrees to take over shelters; Advocacy group says it will lease the facilities for two years

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Roswell Homeless Coalition board member Jeneva Martinez picks up toys from the yard of the former Rivers of Life women’s shelter on East Bland Street. The playground equipment was stolen, she says. The coalition has signed an agreement to operate the shelters for two years and is working to renovate the facility now. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The Roswell Homeless Coalition has signed a lease agreement to operate the two former Rivers of Life shelters.

The nonprofit coalition will operate the women and children’s shelter on East Bland Street and the men’s shelter on East Albuquerque Street, taking over management from Rivers of Life International Inc., said Jeneva Martinez, a coalition board member.

She said that the Roswell Homeless Coalition will lease the facilities for two years, effective Nov. 16, in return for paying bills and insurance on the properties and taking over providing services to the homeless.

Rivers of Life International, which has operated in Roswell since 2003 as a Christian-oriented homeless shelter and food pantry, closed the shelters Oct. 15 due to financial problems and a decision by its board of directors to change shelter operations.

Rivers of Life will continue to operate as a nonprofit and its board of directors plans to continue meeting during the next two years, said Donna Chappell, the board president.

But Chappell said she is pleased with the prospect of the Roswell Homeless Coalition managing the shelters and said the board voted unanimously for the lease agreement.

“They have a better-connected board that can be more effective,” said Chappell. “I think we were brought together by the hand of God, and I think it will be good for the city and the homeless.”

She added that she and other board members are volunteering with the coalition and at the shelter and that one of their board members, who has not been formally appointed yet, will serve on the coalition’s board.

Martinez said that the plan is for the women’s and children’s building to be ready to house about 20 people by early 2018.

Renovations are occurring now and include replacing flooring, dry wall, the commercial stove and some exterior doors and windows. Painting also will be done. The building also needs bedding, pots and pans, and other supplies.

The men’s shelter will require even more structural work, including plumbing work, said Martinez, so the group is planning to hire an architect to help with that project. She said the coalition is unsure at this time when the men’s shelter might open. That property could house up to another 15 or 20 people.

“This is not the entire solution,” said Martinez about the lease agreement. “This is a stepping stone in the right direction. … Even when the Rivers of Life shelters were open, when we did the point-in-time of survey, our numbers were larger than that.”

That January 2017 survey indicated that more than 150 people in Roswell said they were without permanent housing and 75 without even temporary shelter.

“There are a handful, and I say a handful because there are about five to 10 that I do work with from the (Berrendo) riverbed, that really don’t want to be in a shelter setting or a tent city setting,” said Martinez, “and I know that we will always have that small percentage. But the bigger picture is the people who do want the help. … A lot of it has to do with housing, the housing crisis, not so much people that want to live out on the streets.”

Martinez said that volunteers are now working on the women’s shelter renovations and that the coalition is raising money for the upgrades and for the $5,000 to $6,000 in monthly operational expenses that the group anticipates will be needed.

They are taking donations on their website, roswellhomelesscoalition.com, and running a Dec. 15 holiday fundraiser promoted on its Facebook page that involves the possibility of receiving up to $9,000 in matching funds from businesses.

“We want to get the women’s and men’s shelter open as soon as possible, but they need to be up to code,” Martinez said.

Martinez said that the coalition also intends to introduce new services for shelter residents.

“Before it was run with closed doors to outside agencies and from the community,” she said. “We are going to try to change that to have a program where there is some evidence-based success with allowing outside agencies that connect them with outside resources so that when they exit the shelter they will be on their feet.”

She explained that could mean the coalition will work with the Department of Health, the Department of Behavioral Health and local social work programs to help shelter residents get needed treatment or services. She also said the coalition plans to assist people in obtaining legal identification, applying for benefits and acquiring job training and job interviewing skills.

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