It feels more like a home than it does an office. There is a large wooden table at the center of the room, and the walls are plastered in warm, soft colors. The decorations seem carefully considered: Inspiring artwork, handmade crafts and decorative clocks accent the space. There are even a sofa and coffee table off to one side. The feel of the facility is a deliberate part of HEART of Taos’ mission: to make the women it serves feel as comfortable as possible. It’s meant to be homey and inviting, not cold and industrial.
The HEART of Taos is an acronym for Hope, Empowerment, Advocacy, Respect and Transitional housing. In 2016, Ama Khan, executive director and co-founder, who had previously worked for the Taos Coalition to End Homelessness (TCEH), saw a distinct lack of services available for homeless women in Taos County. While Community Against Violence serves the domestic violence needs, it simply does not have the capacity to house other women with needs in the community, and TCEH is a men’sonly shelter. Khan saw the lack and launched HEART of Taos to fill the gap.
The work that HEART does goes far beyond providing shelter. Its office, located in downtown Taos, is a day-use facility where it gives women all the tools they need to stabilize their current situation.
There is a room — called the “boutique” — that contains a wide variety of assorted clothes, shoes and accessories, from professional to casual, all available at no cost. There is a mirror that hangs in here that says, “You Are Loved,” and as Khan says, “We want the women to really be uplifted by the experience of shopping.” And this boutique has an open door policy: Any woman in need, regardless of her housing situation, can come here and take what she needs.
There is a common area in the office, as well, that consists of a sitting area with magazines and books. The women are encouraged to just come and spend time, eat their lunch and visit with each other. Khan continues, “It gives them something to do — just welcome to be here and be in the hustle and bustle of it all. We offer them coffee and tea, and we have soup. We have a library of things they can use, including a computer, so the women can come here and look for jobs, they can work on their resumes, they can look for rentals. But they can also do fun things — like they can do their Facebook here. We’re not going to monitor it, we just want them to have a little space.”
The theme is prevalent in everything HEART does: It believes that assisting women starts with making them feel comfortable and safe. When a woman experiences the trauma of losing nearly everything, it can make getting back on one’s feet feel hopeless and frightening. That is why another one of HEART’s missions is to make sure that pets are able to stay with the family. When asked about the significance of pets, Khan elaborates, “It’s absolutely critical. In fact, I’d say 90 percent of shelter facilities for the homeless require that the individual separate from their pets. Now if you can imagine having lost everything, and then they require that you let go of the one thing you have left, why on earth would we ask them to separate from that? The animals are key. It’s all about healing, so we’re going to be wanting as much help as we can to support that.”
The first thing that happens when a woman comes to HEART is she meets with the support coordinator. During this meeting, basic emergency needs are established and met — transportation is arranged, she is given a resource guide and a $25 gift card. In addition, she and the coordinator set goals together; they begin to formulate a plan. If housing is needed, the woman (or man, in the occasional case) is taken to HEART’s storage unit, where she (or he) can actively begin to furnish the home they don’t even have yet. This is a flip-flopped version of the usual approach: “She doesn’t have a home yet, technically … but it’s majorly significant for her to shift her perspective of
herself. It means that the woman immediately starts to see herself in her home, and that awakens her inner motivation to really go for it. It accelerates the healing and the recovery,” says Khan. All assistance is confidential. And if the woman is not yet homeless, but has a pending eviction, HEART can act as liaison with landlords to come to an agreement that will alleviate a crisis situation.
One of the other features of the program includes a monthly gathering, complete with meals prepared by volunteers, where the women who are currently in the program and past clients can come together to support and empower each other. There is no facilitating at these events: The goal is simply to create a supportive community.
HEART is also committed to providing a living wage to its all-female staff. According to Khan, “We’re going to nourish and empower from the top down.” And it is documenting everything it does to serve as a model for other rural
communities. The idea is to show that a rural community like Taos can create a successful program like HEART, even with limited federal or state funding. The support of the community is evidenced by the success of fundraisers — a live auction recently raised more than $20,000. Khan elaborates, “It’s so possible … we’ve never not been able to completely furnish a home. Underneath, we [the people of Taos] do have that compassionate heart, so to awaken that in a community is a beautiful thing.”
HEART of Taos’ day-use facility and office is located at 204 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, across from Kit Carson Park. The HEART Resource Center is open Tuesday- Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call (575) 776-4245 or visi heartoftaos.org for more information.