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Spotlight: A family of hope

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Christina Stock Photo Pictured are Erica Boggs, left, and Yazzmine Lujan standing at the breakfast table of the Roswell Homeless Coalition.

Changes for Roswell Homeless Coalition include the opening of thrift store and new director

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

What does it take to make an American citizen homeless? This is not an easy question to answer. Before the nation and the world shut down due to the pandemic, statistics showed that the average American lives one to two paychecks from becoming homeless. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,  in 2019, the state of New Mexico had listed  1,524 people as homeless on a given night. Of these homeless people, 80% are indefinitely homeless and 58% are veterans.

The Roswell Homeless Coalition started in 2017 as a nonprofit, when its founding board members took over the management of two shelters, each year adding and growing the services provided to its clients. This year, there are many new faces at its office.

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One of the new faces is Yazzmine Lujan who had moved to Roswell a year ago. She stepped up to become the director of the coalition.

Lujan said that her new husband brought her from Albuquerque to Roswell. She said that she was looking for a purpose when she walked into Waymaker Church. “I met Pastor Joel (Wood), not knowing that Joel was the president of the Homeless Coalition. We just talked and I told him where I came from,” Lujan said. Impressed with her background, Wood offered her the position of director after an interview.

“I started at age 27 in my hometown of Sacramento, California,” Lujan said.” I helped start a Magic Johnson Theater, and I helped to bring Praise Dance to an after-school program, which helped us. We began to get grants. I aided to getting the program off the ground in the neighborhood I grew up in. It was a poverty-stricken neighborhood that I grew up in. I had some women train me, I watched some strong women lead and start businesses; I watched them and when I moved to Albuquerque, I went in to the mental health field at Desert Hills, Acadia Healthcare, I was there for a while. Then I went over to Albuquerque Rescue Mission, started as a supervisor, went to assistant vice president and then dropped down and became a director. I actually was given a room that was empty and the CEO said create something; and I created the Women in Crisis Center and now I’m here.”

The timing is either the worst or the best, depending on one’s view because it happened in a pandemic. Within the first month being director of the coalition, the shelter turned into a transitional home. “That started about in March, then of course, COVID(-19) came and shook some things up, but we were able to sit back and structure on how we wanted the home to look like. We have women and children at this location (400 E. Bland St.) and we have our men down the street at our second location,” she said.

Altogether, Lujan said that there are 27 clients being taken care of, including children. There is still room for more. “We can have up to 19 women here and six to eight children and we can house up to 17 men,” she said.

“With Lujan’s knowledge of facilities available in Albuquerque, not every client will remain. “If we don’t have it, then our goal is to get them where they can get the help. That’s what we’ve been doing,” Lujan said.

Asked about the procedures and services, Lujan said, “What we do here, women come in, they are screened, they are placed in a tier, whatever tier meets their criteria. They get a certain amount of days, and we give them a calendar and they have classes every day in the week.”

These classes are taught by Lujan, her husband and volunteers.

Since Sept. 4, job studies are included, which are provided by Goodwill. “That’s new,” Lujan said. “They are going to come down doing job placement. Showing our clients how to fill out resumes, apply for jobs, do job etiquette. We’ll do some mock interviews, just getting people ready for the job they need.”

Also new is that clients who show leadership have the chance to intern at the coalition. “It gives them a sense of identity,” Lujan said. “We have two amazing interns. Jeanette Rothchild and Allan Arquette. Allan was one of our men who came from the outside, living in a tent. I watched him blossom. He is Joy’s right hand at the thrift store. (Joy Peralta is the new thrift shop manager.) I remember Jeanette coming in battling with so many things, and now, she is running around making sure the ladies are doing their business, she is saving money and will be moving out soon. We’ll be missing her.

“Then we have a volunteer for legal aid help that will help clients getting Social Security, things of that nature. We are trying to get every aspect and we even do transport. I just took a lady to Albuquerque two days ago,” Lujan said.

According to Lujan, the coalition works closely together with several churches, as well as the Roswell Police Department and the County Sheriff’s Office. Some of the clients are referred by the case managers of Eastern New Mexico Medical Center Sunrise, where clients may be treated for mental health. “They will send us those we can help, because we never want to put someone in the position where we do not have the help,” Lujan said.

Asked about her goals, Lujan said, “I love the Lord. My goal is to restore hope to the hopeless and give them a voice and speak for the homeless population. Because before they were homeless, they were housed, they’re someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s daughter and (we are) restoring their identity; helping them find who they once were and getting them where they need to be. Some need a house, some need programs, some need rehab. Everyone’s need is different. So my goal here is not so much getting everyone housed because not everyone needs housing, some people come just because they need friendship, family, they don’t have a family. I am creating relationships with these people, helping them to be restored, so when they do leave, they have a clear conscience on what to do next.”

Next to monetary donations, Lujan said, the coalition is in need of volunteers on a regular basis. The greatest need, where the public can actively help is the Roswell Homeless Coalition’s thrift store, 221 E. Wildy St., which is having its grand opening Sept. 26. “Our thrift store is going to be the vehicle that drives in our funds, that keeps these places open,” Lujan said. “We are in need of great amounts of furniture. Things that we can resell, beautiful things. And volunteers, just to be present with our individual clients. It’s just the small things right now that we need to survive.”

Lujan said they are hoping for the public to donate important basics to either sell at 50% to the clients when they leave for a home of their own, or to sell to provide funds for the services. Items needed are houseware items, pictures, toys — not stuffed animals. “Being that we are going toward the colder season, jackets, gloves, hats, scarves are needed, as well,” Lujan said.

Besides Peralta, there are other new faces. “We have two more amazing staff members,” Lujan said. “Fernando Urquides, he is our men’s home manager and he is leading those men; that is phenomenal. He has literally changed the course of their lives. And Miss Erica Boggs, she is the women’s house manager and that lady is heaven sent. She is so amazing and beautiful. We are a great team of great people, and I love working with them because we all come together. We have our board members — without our board members, oh my goodness, we would not be where we are now. Our board members consist of Joel Wood, our president; Pastor Mark (Green) of Harvest Ministries; Pastor Shaun (Wigley) of Gateway Church; Pastor Chris (LaDuca) of Christ Church; Mr. Brandon and Josh Worley of Christ Church.”

Asked what her plans are when the pandemic restrictions will be loosened, Lujan said that she wants to have a high quality bake sale as a fundraiser, as well as an annual Roswell Homeless Coalition banquet dinner. “That is in the works. Where everyone comes together who has a hand and we’ll celebrate the (Roswell) Homeless Coalition and those who helped. It’s going to be a celebration, a legacy to be left. Something that we can start and leave. Then, of course, our holidays are coming. Every holiday we’ll do something great. We’re just having to figure out on how to do it,” Lujan said and chuckled.

“The only thing we do (as a socializing event — restrictions for social distancing are in place) is every fourth Monday, we hold an Oasis. An Oasis is our fellowship time where we come together with our clients. The men, the women, the volunteers, the staff, we all come together in one building and have different things and we eat and play games. Last month, we did painting. It was Paint & Sip, but it was tea and lemonade. And everyone made teacups. It was an Alice in Wonderland theme. Then we had a Japanese theme where we had sushi. Mr. Fernando gets to pick the next one, so we’ll have no idea what it will be. I am sure it will be fun. It’s to keep everyone’s mind fresh and still engage one another the best way we can, so we don’t breakup with the world getting in and what our clients are going through. We have that day of just ‘I am loved, I am saved, this is my family. If I haven’t got anything, I have them.’”

The Roswell Homeless Coalition has served 29 women and 34 men between February and August, which included housing six women and four men. Of the 34 men, eight were restored to their respective family.

The Roswell Homeless Coalition is a faith-based nonprofit organization. For more information about the thrift store, email rhcthriftshop@gmail.com or call Peralta at 575-622-1239. For more information on the coalition, email yazzmine@roswellhomelesscoalition.com, call 575-627-0668 or visit roswellhomelesscoalition.com.