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Española Pathways to open doors to the homeless

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

From left, Toby Morfin, Eric Quintana, Fernando Ruiz, Ralph Martinez, Andrea Michelle Lucero and Anthony R. Lucero gathered at Denny’s earlier this month to plot strategy for a plan to deliver care boxes to the area’s elderly residents. (Courtesy of Ralph Martinez)

There’s a merry band of community organizers in Española, but they’re not stealing from the rich. And Ralph Martinez, the lightning rod at the center of the group’s activity, is more of a Pied Piper than a Robin Hood.

It’s hard to keep up with Martinez’s philanthropic efforts in the Española Valley. Last weekend, he was showing off the improvements to Española Pathways Shelter, Rio Arriba County’s first homeless shelter, at 216 N. Riverside Drive in Española. The center is housed in former chiropractors’ offices in a shopping mall.

Riding shotgun was Roger Montoya, co-founder of Moving Arts Española. Montoya was honored in December as one of CNN’s 10 Heroes of 2019 for his after-school programs that offer children training in music, dance, art and gymnastics, as well gives them as a hot meal. Montoya is running for the state House of Representatives in District 40, which includes parts of Colfax, Rio Arriba and San Miguel counties.

Earlier this month, Martinez and his merry band held an after-work meeting at Denny’s, plotting how to get meals to the elderly during the coronavirus crisis. Other members of the de facto steering committee included Toby Morfin, a muralist who has just memorialized Renezmae Calzada, a murdered 5-year-old, on an Española fire station; celebrity chef Fernando Ruiz, best known for winning the “Beat Bobby Flay” competition; Divino band members Andrea Michelle Lucero and Anthony R. Lucero; and Eric Quintana, co-founder of Performance Maintenance Inc., whom the Santa Fe New Mexican dubbed northern New Mexico’s “clean green king.”

Any of them alone is a powerhouse in his or her own right. Together, they are unstoppable in their desire to lift up their community, which has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic and attendant crime. And they get plenty of help from behind the scenes, ranging from members of Española’s Sikh community to Pueblo of Pojoaque Gov. Joseph Talachy.

Working with Jeanette R. Ortiz of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and other local groups, Martinez and his friends plan to distribute care boxes to at-risk elderly residents in the Española Valley. Helping to fill up

Ralph Martinez, left, and Roger Montoya walk down the hall in the new Española Pathways Shelter. (Jeff Black/For Journal North)

those boxes are donations of meat from Ruiz, disinfectants, toilet paper, power towels and hand soaps contributed by Roger A. Gonzales of Chicanos Por La Causa and Quintana. Talachy and the pueblo pitched in with multiple cases of water.

“The collaborations that we’ve been able to piece together between organizations has been beautiful to watch,” Martinez said.

While you might find Martinez onstage emceeing a watch party at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, along with Andrea Michelle Romero, his main interest these days is getting the homeless shelter up and running. The idea is to take a holistic approach to get people off the streets and keep them there permanently. There are about 150 homeless people in Rio Arriba County, according to Martinez’s estimates.

Martinez, who works at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is well acquainted with the obstacles facing the homeless. He was addicted to drugs for 11 years, from 2001 to 2012, and homeless for the last six years of that period.

During that time, Martinez sought shelter in a variety of places around town, including tents and abandoned buildings, and even by the bosque.

As a first step toward operating a homeless shelter, the city of Española allowed Pathways to open a warming center earlier in the year. It is a small-scale operation, allowing people to take shelter during bad weather. Visitors can check in between 6 and 9 p.m. To stay overnight, they are asked to fill out a short questionnaire. Their possessions are put into storage, and they are given a sleeping mat, blankets and food.

“There is plenty of food for them to eat. We have some tables they can sit at, games that they can play, puzzles they can put together, as well as a TV and a DVD player where they can watch movies,” Martinez said.

There are no showers at the temporary facility, and overnight guests must leave by 7:30 a.m.

“The warming center has been operating real bare-bones,” he said.

During the two months or so that the warming center has been open, Martinez said, Pathways has been reluctant to release data about its visitors because of the limited scope of the facility, which can handle only 10 people a night.

Roger Montoya, left, and Ralph Martinez stand in the lobby of the new Española Pathways Shelter, which is being built in former chiropractors’ offices on Riverside Drive. (Jeff Black/For Journal North)

As part of its holistic approach, Pathways plans to offer crisis services, including access to drug and alcohol treatment, and other behavioral services, and life skill development, as well as workforce development and education.

On its website, Pathways says, “Most homeless people need a variety of supportive services to effectively transition into productive, stable living. We offer an evidence-based approach, as well as a wrap-around supportive services model that provides comprehensive care alongside shelter and vital links to more permanent housing and stability.”

The shelter recently hired Dena Moscola, a Santa Fe resident, as its director after vetting six candidates. Martinez said the center hired two homeless individuals to serve on the panel interviewing the finalists for the job to get some real-life input. He said Moscola was selected because she had extensive experience in team- and character-building.

Now, Pathways is waiting to obtain 501(c)3 certification, which will give it nonprofit status. Until then, the shelter is under the umbrella of the New Mexico Coalition for the Homeless, said Martinez, president of Pathways’ board of directors.

When it opens in May, Pathways will have a dormitory for 10 men

Ralph Martinez (left) and Roger Montoya discuss improvements to the building that is housing the new Española Pathways Shelter. (Jeff Black/For Journal North)

and one for 10 women, both with bathroom and showers, and two rooms for families that may need shelter for a short period of time. The dorms are being constructed on the building’s first floor, and the second floor will be eventually be used for workforce development.

As Montoya, who founded Moving Arts with his partner Salvador Ruiz-Esquivel, noted, “It’s important to get the model right in the beginning before you try to scale up.”

He knows of what he speaks: Moving Arts currently offers about 40 classes in a “smorgasbord” of performing arts to 450 kids.

Martinez can’t help himself from thinking big.

“Eventually, we want to have a Pathways cafe, space for artists to be able to work on whatever arts they have. We’re looking at a Pathways landscaping business to be able to beautify the city,” he said.

One thing is certain: Martinez won’t be working in a vacuum. In addition to having a full-time director and staff with appropriate training, Pathways will have the benefit of the Denny’s brain trust.