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Homeless Coalition begins new initiatives; Education program launched, city photo ID in the works

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Joel Wood, president of the board of directors of the Roswell Homeless Coalition, speaks with Sarah Lewis, director of the women’s shelter, during Tuesday’s meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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About six months after taking over operations of two homeless shelters, the Roswell Homeless Coalition has been working with other agencies to address some of the chronic issues affecting the homeless population.

Two of the initiatives include educational programs specifically catering to shelter residents and an effort by the Roswell Police Department to develop a city photo identification card that could be used in lieu of state identification.

“We have been working really hard to find solutions to all the really diverse, associated problems that have to do with homelessness,” said Mark Green, head of Harvest Ministries and a coalition board member. “It is not just about getting them off the streets and getting them into a house.”

He said homeless people can be dealing with such issues as post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic violence, substance abuse or difficulty keeping up with the paperwork necessary to continue to receive benefits. Without addressing those concerns, he said, providing housing won’t be enough.

“We could actually help get someone into a house, and they could be back out in a couple of months,” Green said,

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One of the new initiatives involves providing educational programs aimed specifically at shelter residents, said Hilda Pacheco-Peeples, director of Adult Basic Education with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell at a Tuesday morning meeting of the coalition.

The university has expanded its ABE program to offer English as a Second Language classes, general education diploma (GED), basic computer classes and college preparatory courses Monday through Thursday at St. John’s Catholic Church, not far from the shelters, which are on East Bland and East Albuquerque streets.

Once a week, students will travel to the ENMU-R campus for computer labs. The university will issue them university IDs, allowing them access to other college resources, which includes a day care facility.

Three shelter residents planning to obtain their GEDs were scheduled to participate in orientation Tuesday, Pacheco-Peeples said.

“I think that if they get to the college and they see what we have to offer,” she said, “I think that is also going to make them feel as if they are part of the college and they can go ahead and enroll, not only in college but in some of the other voc-tech classes we offer.”

Roswell Police Department Lt. Albert Aldana talked about his efforts to develop a city photo identification program for shelter residents. Many of them cannot obtain state of New Mexico driver’s licenses or IDs because they do not have two documents proving residence, birth certificates, passports or other official documents.

“Right now, our clients are 90 days at the shelter,” said coalition board member Jeneva Martinez. “It can take more than 90 days for them for them to obtain that first step of getting ID.”

Lt. Aldana said that he is working to develop a city-approved identification card in a program that would be modeled after one used in Houston.

People who agree to fingerprinting and a background check would be able to receive a city-approved ID that includes personal and identifying information, as well as names of emergency contacts and next of kin.

People attending the coalition expressed hope that the ID cards would make it easier for people to obtain employment, housing or assistance from other programs, but Aldana also said it would help first responders and law enforcement because many times victims of crimes, accidents or other crises do not have any identification on them.

He also mentioned that the cards could contain information obtained from the background checks, if people are willing to agree. In return for participating, he said, the police might be able to provide people with bus passes.

“It is not only to help them out but to help us out,” he said.

Several other current or pending items were discussed.

• The shelters are full, with 16 men and 20 women and children in the two buildings. Since the shelters reopened— after the coalition took over operations from Rivers of Life in late 2017— four women and three men have transitioned out of the shelters into their own housing.

• Exterior painting is occurring on the women’s shelter on East Bland Street. For the men’s shelter on East Albuquerque Street, a 7-foot privacy fence soon will be erected and interior renovations are planned for the future.

• The New Mexico Rehabilitation Center will reinstate an inpatient treatment program for those with substance addictions. Chief Executive Officer Jose Gurrola said that, starting in July, the center will be able to house about 10 to 12 people in its inpatient program, which lasts about 28 days. That program will be in addition to a seven-day detox program that has eight beds and a 16-week outpatient sobriety-counseling program.

• Ron Biggers announced the formation of a new nonprofit, Main Things First, to counsel family members of incarcerated people.

• Many other agencies, including Goodwill, Harvest Ministries, Molina Health Care, the Salvation Army, the Roswell Independent School District and New Mexico Workforce Connections provided information about their ongoing efforts to help people obtain health care, employment, job training, emergency housing or monetary assistance, food, clothing and counseling.

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.