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 V.16 No.7 | February 15 - 21, 2007 

Newscity

Lost Sanctuary

Holistic treatment center for women shuts its doors--for now

Forty-one-year old Lorraine Sanchez makes her way down the hall on a pair of crutches at Almas de Amistad. Sanchez, who has trouble keeping off the streets, found a support network at Almas de Amistad that helps her stay clean and out of jail. Sanchez is trying to prepare for a hip replacement, but is often turned away at the hospital due to her unpredictable state.
Tina Larkin
Forty-one-year old Lorraine Sanchez makes her way down the hall on a pair of crutches at Almas de Amistad. Sanchez, who has trouble keeping off the streets, found a support network at Almas de Amistad that helps her stay clean and out of jail. Sanchez is trying to prepare for a hip replacement, but is often turned away at the hospital due to her unpredictable state.

Shawna Campbell-Rosenthal tried to save the building, tried to make sure there wouldn't be a gap in services for the women who come in every day seeking treatment, counseling, sanctuary.

Despite her best efforts, for about six months, the homey, low-light rooms, the kitchen and plump couches, the children's play area, the food and clothing banks, won't exist.

Campbell-Rosenthal is the program director of Almas de Amistad, an outpatient teaching and therapeutic community for women. Word came Wednesday, Feb. 7, that The Amity Foundation, Amistad's parent organization, had sold the building to a Downtown developer, and the doors of 609 Gold SW would have to shut for good at the end of the month. Though Campbell-Rosenthal will continue to fight for federal funding and a grant could come through in the spring, the government's fiscal year doesn't start until October. Funds for a new center won’t be available until then.

Six years ago, Campbell-Rosenthal and other Amistad staff gutted the cubbyhole office space. They painted the walls soothing colors. They moved in donated furniture. They tried to create a calming space, part of Amistad's holistic ideology.

"This, right here, is the essence of what we're about," Campbell-Rosenthal says, pointing to a younger guy, napping on one of the couches in the Betty D. room, baseball hat pulled down over his eyes. "We're a safe place for people to come get off the streets, out of the sun or out of the cold." The building was donated to The Amity Foundation, but there was a mortgage balance that cost the center more than $5,000 a month. The federal grant Amistad received for five years didn’t pay for rent, but the foundation covered the expense for a while and was willing to foot the bill as long as Amistad could come up with the cash for its own payroll.

The grant ran out and staff had to be cut. Ethically, Campbell-Rosenthal says, you can only have so many clients per councilor, so services were cut and the number of clients went down, too. There went the service fees clients paid, which were funding the payroll. Though Campbell-Rosenthal chased state money as a stopgap until the next grant comes in, there "just isn't that much out there."

Two other organizations Amistad allowed to set up shop in the Downtown building will be without a home base as well. The Southwest Employment and Training program (SWEAT) and a GED program, both a part of Ser de New Mexico, have been using part of the building for about two and a half years. Juliette Beck, SWEAT's director, says the programs knew things would be winding down, but they just kept hoping something would come through. "We were contacting politicians, and Shawna was writing grants, and we were hoping there would be something to help us continue this partnership and provide free services. Nothing came through."

Beck adds that regardless, she and the other tutors will find a way to meet their students, whether it's at the public library or in a restaurant. It's hard to imagine the bustle of sometimes 50 students a day or more working in only public spaces, but Beck's determined to make it work. The stability of having a base has been huge for retention in the Ser programs, she says. The location was also helpful to those taking the bus. The convenience of having the three programs housed together, she says, was a huge advantage for her clients, most of whom were single mothers working to make a better life for their children. Some of them come in for job training and pursue their GED or join an Amistad group addressing abuse or substance abuse.

The stories of women in New Mexico are some of the most horrific Campbell-Rosenthal's heard in her 18 years in the field around the country. "In counseling, you hear everybody's story. There aren't enough services, especially for women. The women are going to raise the children. So how do you change it?"

Her attitude and message in the remaining days will be one of strength, she says. "What we're trying to teach the women is that the building didn't clean you up, you did."

 
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