Opinion: Taos Men’s Shelter, 10 years later

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In 2006, several concerned citizens founded the Taos Coalition to End Homelessness. We received our nonprofit status from the IRS in March of that year. Seed money was primarily raised from citizen contributions, with additional support from the town of Taos and Taos County. Our original structure opened in 2007 and lasted a year before being destroyed by arson.

A second structure, a mobile double-wide, was donated to TCEH from the Taos School District and serves as our shelter today. The shelter has the capacity to house up to 20 men at a time, and almost every night our beds are filled. As a current board member and former executive director, we are now enjoying 10 continuous years of operation.

TCEH was originally formed as an emergency short-term homeless shelter for the men of Taos County. We provide a clean safe haven for men whose circumstances bring them to our door. In addition to providing the basic necessities of donated food and clothing, along with shelter, our recently hired case manager gets to know each of the men individually and assist them with references to other agencies, help in finding work, permanent housing, counseling and encouragement.

Substance abuse is often at the forefront with many of our clients and transportation to local 12-step meetings is provided as needed. As long as a client is making positive steps to improve his situation, he is welcome at the shelter without strict time limits.

Over the past eight years of my involvement with the shelter we have maintained a flat-line budget of approximately $150,000. This includes salaries for three shelter monitors, the case manager, shelter director and bookkeeper. This equates to a total cost of $20/day for every man we serve. Considering the daily costs of jail or Emergency Room care for a man found freezing in a snow bank, we strongly believe that this is an extremely cost effective use of local resources. Today our expenses are covered by three primary sources including local and state contracts, private foundations and local citizen contributions. Each funding source represents about a third of our total revenue. We are particularly proud of the last group mentioned – the citizens of Taos.

Citizen donations have averaged approximately $50,000 per year with nearly 500 individual contributions. This has included fundraising efforts from various schools in town, donations from various service clubs and numerous businesses. Perhaps our most telling citizen contributions come from our cadre of volunteers and local restaurants that provide a home-cooked meal to the men every night.

In my role with the shelter, I have heard some complain that the shelter is a magnet drawing homeless men to Taos. While we do have some clients that “ride the shelter circuit,” these men are on a strict five-day time limit. If you’re a transient passing through, with no ties to the area, grab a bunk, shower and hot meal, but pack up and leave when the time is up.

Our primary mission has always been on providing a hand-up to the less fortunate men in our own backyard. Right now, as we face the upcoming winter months, our budget to provide humanitarian care to those in need is at a critical point. While we are grateful for the support provided by the town, county, citizens and local businesses such as Cid’s, Five Star Burgers and Taos Ski Valley, we need your additional help to ensure continued operation. Just as a point of comparison, in terms of cash contributions for operational needs, our local animal shelter receives over 10 times the amount TCEH has seen from the town and county combined on an annual basis.

Sheltering homeless men is not a glamorous undertaking. Our facility is at best functional, safe and clean. Nonetheless, taking care of those in need has always been the right thing to do and after eight years of my involvement I am more convinced of TCEH’s mission than ever. Any help you can provide will be appreciated.

Our mailing address is:TCEH, P.O. Box 1516, Taos, NM 87571.

– Jay Wood serves on the board of the Taos Mens’ Shelter

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