Home­less memo­rial hon­ors oft un­seen neigh­bors

The Taos News - - FRONT PAGE - By Cody Hooks [email protected]­news.com

Ed­i­tor’s note: This is part of a se­ries of sto­ries in The Taos News ex­plor­ing the faces and root causes 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]­news.com or com­ment on our Face­book (face­book. com/taos­news/), Twit­ter (twit­ter.com/ taos­news) or web­site (taos­news.com).

Peo­ple’s worlds can seem so sep­a­rate, even though they aren’t.

The high­way out­side of El Pue­blito United Methodist Church in El Prado was roar­ing Fri­day (Dec. 21) with peo­ple get­ting off work and get­ting ready for the last week­end be­fore Christ­mas. Yet in­side, in the warmth and soft light of the mod­est sanc­tu­ary, a cou­ple dozen peo­ple had gath­ered to sup­port one an­other as they re­mem­bered the home­less peo­ple in the Taos com­mu­nity who died or went miss­ing in 2018.

The hodge­podge group of home­less folks, church­go­ers and peo­ple in the home­less ad­vo­cacy com­mu­nity lit can­dles to re­mem­ber their de­ceased friends who, though they didn’t have a house to sleep in ev­ery night, “were peo­ple with hopes and dreams,” said El Pue­blito Pas­tor Cheri Lyon.

“We cel­e­brate, re­mem­ber and rec­og­nize them,” Lyon said.

Home­less­ness in Taos is a chronic is­sue. The Taos Men’s Shel­ter, one of the spon­sors of Fri­day’s “Home­less Memo­rial Day Ser­vice,” started in 2007. In its first year, the shel­ter served about 2,700 men with meals, a place to sleep and other ser­vices, ac­cord­ing to Taos News archives. In

2018, the shel­ter reg­u­larly fills its 18 beds and serves up to 30 meals a night.

New Mex­ico is near the top of the coun­try for chronic home­less­ness, and the state saw an in­crease over

2017 of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­lated last week by the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment.

A per­son ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chronic home­less­ness is some­one with a dis­abil­ity who has been home­less for more than a year or been home­less on four or more oc­ca­sions in the last three years, ac­cord­ing to the HUD re­port.

“The in­crease in home­less­ness also comes as the na­tion grap­ples with a pro­longed af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis,” said a state­ment from the Na­tional Al­liance to End Home­less­ness. “The lack of af­ford­able hous­ing has a dual

ef­fect: it pushes more peo­ple into the home­less­ness sys­tem, while also mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to help peo­ple exit into hous­ing.”

Yet with such a com­plex prob­lem as home­less­ness, in­di­vid­ual lives and sto­ries of­ten go unnoticed.

The Home­less Memo­rial Day Ser­vice was meant to rem­edy that over­sight and honor the in­di­vid­u­als who died.

Clint Mur­phy, with the Taos Coali­tion to End Home­less­ness, said that in­stead of spend­ing the af­ter­noon try­ing to un­tan­gle the causes or so­lu­tions of home­less­ness, “just re­mem­ber­ing” these peo­ple was enough for the mo­ment.

The ser­vice in­cluded a po­etry read­ing, in­ter­faith songs, sto­ries, prayer and a eu­logy de­liv­ered by the shel­ter’s Ethan Naszady.

Light­ing can­dles was the heart of the ser­vice. As Naszady read the names of the 12 men the shel­ter knows to have died in 2018, for­mer El Pue­blito pas­tor Steve Wiard lit a can­dle on the al­tar. Two other can­dles were lit for the un­known peo­ple who have died in the last year or have gone miss­ing.

The men were Hans, Rick, Fer­nando, An­to­nio, Frank, Mar­cus, Reuben, Marc, Jerry, Seth, Ar­tie and Ben. (Naszady pro­vided only the mens’ first names to pro­tect their pri­vacy).

For some of the peo­ple in the home­less com­mu­nity of Taos, Fri­day’s ser­vice was the first time they had heard of the deaths of some of their friends.

Af­ter the can­dles were lit, some peo­ple spoke about the in­di­vid­u­als they had known and re­mem­bered friends with a par­tic­u­lar way of talk­ing, friends who shared their street wis­dom with younger home­less peo­ple and friends who went out of their way to help.

Sev­eral peo­ple also spoke about the need for more ser­vices in Taos, such as bet­ter trans­porta­tion op­tions to and from the hospi­tal and a new de­tox cen­ter. Taos’ for­mer de­tox cen­ter closed in 2015; de­spite ef­forts by lo­cal govern­ment of­fi­cials, the cen­ter has not re­opened. Tri-County Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that pre­vi­ously ran the de­tox cen­ter, closed its doors in Au­gust.

Steve Na­tel­son, pres­i­dent of the Taos Coali­tion to End Home­less­ness, said 2019 will be a year of im­prov­ing the fa­cil­i­ties at the men’s shel­ter.

Mor­gan Timms/The Taos News

Shan­non Row­elling and Lu­cas Nykamp, of Taos, sing hymns as they re­mem­ber those who lost their lives while home­less this year at El Pue­blito United Methodist Church in El Prado Fri­day (Dec. 21). Taos’ in­au­gu­ral Home­less Memo­rial Ser­vice was or­ga­nized in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Taos Coali­tion to End Home­less­ness.

Mor­gan Timms/The Taos News

Can­dles sym­bol­ized the 12 who died while home­less this year in Taos County, dur­ing a vigil held Fri­day (Dec. 21) at El Pue­blito United Methodist Church in El Prado.

Mor­gan Timms/The Taos News

Clint Mur­phy helps light Grace Lawrie’s can­dle dur­ing the Home­less Memo­rial Ser­vice Fri­day (Dec. 21) at El Pue­blito United Methodist Church in El Prado.

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