Out of the storm

The Taos News - - NEWS - By John Miller [email protected]­news.com The Taos New

Ed­i­tor’s note: Home con­notes many things. But for most of us, a home in­volves a roof over our heads, a place to hang pic­tures, cook meals, raise chil­dren and find respite. Maybe it is a house, or an apart­ment, a tepee or a yurt.

For many peo­ple a house of any kind is a lux­ury.

The fol­low­ing is the first in a se­ries of sto­ries in The Taos News ex­plor­ing the roots and faces of home­less­ness in Taos County and the peo­ple look­ing for so­lu­tions. We in­vite you to send us your own sto­ries of home­less­ness. Email ed­i­[email protected] taos­news.com or com­ment on our Face­book (face­book. com/taos­news/), Twit­ter (twit­ter.com/taos­news) or web­site (taos­news.com).

Night mon­i­tor Brian Price saw the line be­gin to grow out­side Taos Men’s Shel­ter be­fore the worst of the storm hit on Vet­eran’s Day.

The snow started fall­ing well be­fore the sun went down, and then it blew in sheets in the cold dark, the freez­ing flakes dart­ing in the beams of car head­lamps mov­ing up Al­bright Street and build­ing un­der street­lights in deep­en­ing drifts. The tem­per­a­ture would drop to -3.

Some of Taos County’s home­less emerged out of the bl­iz­zard on foot, pick­ing their way through the freeze. Oth­ers were trucked in through the storm in a neigh­bor’s ve­hi­cle, or in a po­lice cruiser. Many clung to the fruits of a day’s work or a day’s hus­tle.

Men, about a quar­ter of them vet­er­ans – and a few women – shook out their jack­ets and stomped their shoes in the light of the door­way, leav­ing tracks of snow that said some­thing of their readi­ness for the storm and where they had been by the pat­terns their soles left be­hind.

“Hey, hey, how y’all do­ing?” Price asked as he ush­ered them through the door.

A hot meal pre­pared by lo­cal vol­un­teers waited for them in­side. Each per­son filled a plate and found a seat at a ta­ble, on a couch or in front of a com­puter at the far side of the room.

Dustin Lis­ter, a for­mer res­i­dent who now works for the shel­ter, took a count to see how many res­i­dents had re­turned for the night and how many new faces had crowded into the room.

Taos Men’s Shel­ter is the only overnight shel­ter for adults in Taos, but the beds they of­fer are only avail­able to men, ages 18 to 80. Women and chil­dren can stay for din­ner, but have to leave when the lights go out.

More peo­ple knocked at the door and the storm blew harder.

Price knew the shel­ter’s 18-bed limit would have to be pushed be­yond what reg­u­la­tions would safely al­low. The peo­ple at the door had few al­ter­na­tives.

“We went as high as 28 beds dur­ing the storm,” Price later noted.

Out of the woods

Price sought refuge at the men’s shel­ter on an­other day when the weather turned three years ago.

After a ca­reer in cor­po­rate jobs that left him feel­ing empty and a divorce that was enough to “break the camel’s back,” he found him­self home­less, wan­der­ing the pub­lic lands of New Mex­ico.

“I hung on as long as I could, and then I de­cided I was go­ing to go live in the woods,” he said. “I thought I was done with it, and I ex­pected to die, but low and be­hold I didn’t die while I was out there.”

In the fall of 2015, he made his way into Taos to find food for him­self and his dog, but the tem­per­a­tures out­side had al­ready be­gun to drop.

“I was wo­ken up by po­lice three times that Oc­to­ber,” he re­called.

By the third time, he said an of­fi­cer di­rected him to Taos Men’s Shel­ter.

He said lo­cal law en­force­ment in Taos makes an ef­fort to di­rect the home­less to shel­ter, which often means a ride on the Blue Bus to warmer ar­eas fur­ther south in New Mex­ico. Taos Po­lice Chief David Tru­jillo said his of­fi­cers re­fresh their train­ing in deal­ing with the home­less pop­u­la­tion twice a year.

Price chose to stay at Taos Men’s Shel­ter. His first time was “pan­de­mo­nium,” he said.

One res­i­dent had stolen from an­other per­son stay­ing at the shel­ter, an act Price de­scribed as “about the worst thing you can do in the home­less com­mu­nity.”

But Price kept com­ing back, and by the spring of 2016, he was asked to join the staff as a night mon­i­tor, an ex­pe­ri­ence, he said, that has opened his eyes to the root causes of home­less­ness among adult men.

“I think a lot of it goes to their child­hood,” he said. “We get night ter­rors over there. Peo­ple have hor­ri­ble dreams. And it’s ei­ther vet­er­ans on the bat­tle­field, or it’s other peo­ple that are re­liv­ing a child­hood trauma.”

Not your typ­i­cal Taos story

Many who ar­rive in Taos un­der less-than-ideal cir­cum­stances tell a com­mon story: The strug­gle to find a job and a lack of af­ford­able hous­ing has even forced some of them to spend a few nights in their car.

That’s dif­fer­ent from chronic home­less­ness, de­fined as an ex­tended pe­riod with­out per­ma­nent hous­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ethan Naszady, an Amer­iCorps VISTA vol­un­teer who works at the shel­ter.

“Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness it­self is a cri­sis,” he says. “It’s a trau­matic cri­sis event and a very sig­nif­i­cant men­tal and phys­i­cal sit­u­a­tion to be in.”

Roughly 2,500 peo­ple will find them­selves in that sit­u­a­tion tonight in New Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to 2017 data pro­vided by the U. S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, which fur­ther es­ti­mates the num­ber of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chronic home­less­ness in the state at around 800.

Through­out the United States, an es­ti­mated 554,000 peo­ple are home­less, a num­ber that swung as high as a mil­lion and a half peo­ple after the hous­ing bub­ble burst in

2008.

Pin­ning down num­bers for small lo­cal­i­ties, like Taos County, is less pre­cise.

So far this year, Price said they’ve served roughly 320 dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Of those, he es­ti­mates 30 per­cent are from Taos County, 20 per­cent are from other parts of New Mex­ico, and

50 per­cent are from out­side the state.

He said the pop­u­la­tion they serve at the shel­ter is highly tran­sient and is gen­er­ally di­vided into two groups: those who ar­rive for din­ner each night, which is open to the pub­lic – in­clud­ing women and ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren – and those who stay overnight at the shel­ter.

The lat­ter is also di­vided into two groups: peo­ple in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, for which there are six beds capped at a max­i­mum of five nights per per­son each month, and 12 beds re­served for res­i­dents en­gaged in the shel­ter’s case man­age­ment pro­gram, run by Andy Chiar­aluce.

Re­build­ing

Four days after the storm cleared, the ground around the county still lay frozen, and a young man stay­ing at the shel­ter, who asked to re­main anony­mous, got up to start his day.

He first walks to the Hanu­man Tem­ple in Taos, where he med­i­tates be­fore at­tend­ing a ses­sion with the lo­cal chap­ter of Al­co­holics Anony­mous. Then he goes to the li­brary to post his re­sume on em­ploy­ment web­sites. Later, he goes to work at a lo­cal restau­rant where he buses ta­bles.

“Stay­ing here is help­ing me to save money to get my own place,” he says of his time at the shel­ter. “The guys here sup­port each other.”

He came here after los­ing his home in Santa Fe, an ex­pe­ri­ence that wors­ened a drink­ing prob­lem he’s man­aged to shake in re­cent months. Part of his re­gained sta­bil­ity has come from work­ing with Chiar­aluce on a set of goals he hopes will get him a good job at Taos Ski Val­ley and a place of his own in Taos.

Ad­dic­tion is a com­mon fac­tor among clients at the shel­ter, Chiar­aluce said, as are other be­hav­ioral health prob­lems. Some clients are for­mer pa­tients at Tri-County Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, which cre­ated a hole in the com­mu­nity’s safety net when it shut down ear­lier this year.

“We tried to pre­pare our­selves for the shakeup at Tri-County,” Naszady said. “Things didn’t get too bumpy. I think the main con­cern was con­tin­u­ing to ac­cess med­i­ca­tion.”

Chiar­aluce works with clients from the most ba­sic level nec­es­sary to par­tic­i­pate in so­ci­ety. Ac­quir­ing a copy of a lost birth cer­tifi­cate or so­cial se­cu­rity card is a com­mon goal. Res­i­dents can use the shel­ter as a tem­po­rary ad­dress to ac­com­plish such tasks.

One of the most im­por­tant ser­vices of­fered at the shel­ter, how­ever, is the din­ner that brings many mem­bers of this marginal­ized com­mu­nity to­gether each day.

Game night

“Does ev­ery­body know that we have food on the ta­ble?” Price an­nounced, as peo­ple started to re­turn to the shel­ter that evening.

Con­tain­ers of fried chicken, baked yams and veg­eta­bles steamed on a long ta­ble in the main room. One res­i­dent turned on Thurs­day night foot­ball. The Pack­ers were play­ing the Sea­hawks. The an­nounc­ers be­gan to call the game as the teams took to the scrim­mage line, adding to the din of chat­ter fill­ing the room.

Roberta Ler­man, one of a 10-mem­ber crew of vol­un­teers with the Taos Jewish Cen­ter who pre­pares meals each month, stood by the door as a man walked in.

“Thank you, folks,” he said to her as he went for a plate.

“It’s a re­ally good feel­ing do­ing this,” Ler­man said. “When I’m mak­ing this, I think, ‘One of these guys could

‘Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness it­self is a cri­sis. It’s a trau­matic cri­sis event and a very sig­nif­i­cant men­tal and phys­i­cal sit­u­a­tion to be in.’

— Ethan Naszady, Amer­iCorps VISTA vol­un­teer

be my son.’ ”

But it’s not just men who come to din­ner.

Ali­cia Stine, a re­cent ar­rival from Ne­vada, picked at a plate of chicken at a ta­ble with two other men and a fam­ily with two small chil­dren.

“I’ve been stuck here for a cou­ple weeks now,” Stine says as she pulls some meat off the bone. “I was go­ing with a trav­el­ing sales crew, where they go door-to-door and sell all-pur­pose clean­ers. When I first got here, I got beat up and ev­ery­thing was stolen from me, all my clothes.”

She says she knows how to sur­vive, but when din­ner ends at 8 p.m each night, she often has to a find a new place to stay.

And do­ing so can be dan­ger­ous.

“A lot of peo­ple want to trade sex,” she said, “and that’s just not me.”

Sev­eral other staff mem­bers at the men’s shel­ter said a women’s shel­ter is a pri­or­ity.

“We needed a women’s shel­ter here like yes­ter­day,” Price said. “That’s a com­mu­nity ef­fort and we need to get be­hind that.”

Heart of Taos, a non­profit that pro­vides tran­si­tional liv­ing ser­vices to home­less women, has been at the fore­front of those ef­forts, but cur­rently of­fers no equiv­a­lent of the men’s shel­ter for women.

Fam­i­lies, too, who find them­selves home­less, have to make a de­ci­sion about whether they will stay to­gether on the street or split up at shel­ters that aren’t equipped to serve dif­fer­ent ages and gen­ders to­gether.

Sit­ting over plates at the end of the ta­ble, Nick Mikrikov and Cyn­this Eg­gink, said they had to live in their car for sev­eral months with three small chil­dren after mov­ing from Cal­i­for­nia to Taos last year.

“We lit­er­ally ar­rived with about $2 in our pocket,” Eg­gnick said, re­call­ing how their house in Cal­i­for­nia fell through dur­ing a land­lord-ten­ant dis­pute.

They fed them­selves by sell­ing pre­cious met­als and an­tiques around Taos. Mikrikov, a skilled la­borer, would pick up odd jobs work­ing con­struc­tion. For a time, he worked at a lo­cal sal­vage yard, but even with both of them work­ing, they would re­main home­less for many months.

They started bring­ing their fam­ily to the men’s shel­ter this fall. Eg­gnick said it was an ex­pe­ri­ence she was some­what wary of. Price said he is al­ways on alert when small chil­dren come to din­ner.

Eg­gnick said she had only seen one other fam­ily at din­ner time, but was re­as­sured by her part­ner, who had vis­ited the shel­ter ear­lier in the year.

“I feel com­fort­able in there be­cause of Nick’s whole at­ti­tude about the place and his re­la­tion­ship with the guys,” she said.

A break­through came re­cently when a lo­cal man they met through the shel­ter heard about their sit­u­a­tion and of­fered them a deal on a house he was look­ing to rent.

Ever since, they’ve been work­ing to re­build and sta­bi­lize their lives for their chil­dren.

The men’s shel­ter, in­clud­ing the staff and the res­i­dents that live there, con­tinue to be an im­por­tant part of that process when they re­turn for din­ner each week.

“It was warm. There was food,” Nick re­calls of his first ex­pe­ri­ence at the shel­ter. “I no­ticed peo­ple weren’t pick­ing on each other. I no­ticed there weren’t groups just co­a­lesc­ing and be­ing alone. Ev­ery­body was very to­gether. There was a to­geth­er­ness, more like a fam­ily.”

Mor­gan Timms

Night mon­i­tor Brian Price en­ters the Taos Men’s Shel­ter on Al­bright Street after a smoke break with a client Sun­day (Nov. 18). The shel­ter pro­vides home­less men of Taos County food, laun­dry, hy­giene ac­cess, case man­age­ment and a warm place to stay 365 days a year. Its win­ter hours are 5 p.m. — 8 a.m.

Mor­gan Timms

Ni­cholas Mikrikov feeds his 16-month-old son, Con­stan­tine Mikrikov, green beans and mashed pota­toes on Satur­day (Nov. 17) dur­ing din­ner at the Taos Men’s Shel­ter. Mikrikov and his part­ner, Cyn­this “Jewel” Eg­gink, fre­quent the shel­ter for din­ner with Con­stan­tine and their two other chil­dren, 7-year-old Sarah Pa­turel and 3-year-old Clare Mikrikov. When the fam­ily moved to Taos from Cal­i­for­nia, Ni­cholas and Jewel were un­able to af­ford hous­ing and lived out of their car for sev­eral months.

Mor­gan Timms

Dozens of men line up to help them­selves to home-baked pasta and cole slaw Sun­day (Nov. 18) at the Taos Men’s Shel­ter.

Mor­gan Timms

Guests check the sizes of warm cloth­ing do­na­tions un­der the su­per­vi­sion of shift man­ager Brian Price on Satur­day (Nov. 17) after din­ner at the Taos Men’s Shel­ter.

Mor­gan Timms

While watch­ing tele­vi­sion, Jim pats Brian Price’s 10-year-old bor­der col­lie mix, Penny Lou, on Satur­day (Nov. 17) after din­ner at the Taos Men’s Shel­ter. Jim, who cares for Penny Lou in Price’s ab­sence, con­sid­ers him­self the dog’s god­fa­ther. Shel­ter of­fi­cials asked the re­porters to use only his first name.

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