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 V.16 No.50 | December 13 - 19, 2007 

Newscity

Sanctuary Grows New Roots

Day shelter for homeless women seeks to replant itself in Albuquerque

The women of Almas de Amistad (from left) Lead Counselor Mary Stanton, Counselor Anna Perez, Director Mary Aguirre and student Vanessa Montoya, greet a newcomer.
Tina Larkin
The women of Almas de Amistad (from left) Lead Counselor Mary Stanton, Counselor Anna Perez, Director Mary Aguirre and student Vanessa Montoya, greet a newcomer.

As Maria helped the new staff of Almas de Amistad set up shop again, she recognized some of the furniture. Couches, shelves and knickknacks from the old Amistad, open for about six years as a sanctuary for women from the streets trying to get clean. Amistad lost a federal grant and shut its doors at the end of February, ceasing the specialized services it provides to homeless and drug-addicted women. "The first week I found out they [reopened], I came and started painting with them," Maria says.

Maria, who declined to publish her last name ["Maria's Story," May 24-30], was comforted to see the old furnishings that surrounded her during her ongoing, years-long trek to sobriety. She dusted them off, vacuumed and helped the part-old, part-new staff of Almas build what they call a sanctuary. Low lights, comfortable couches, a kitchen area, group therapy rooms that look more like pleasant sitting roomsthe address is different, but the mission remains.

Program Director Mary Aguirre says her main priority was making Amistad a safe place, "like a home where people can come and sit wherever they want." Amistad maintains an open-door policy. Anyone can walk in and use the kitchen, hang out and receive individual counseling or become part of a group. With a new federal grant at its disposal, the center reopened its doors Oct. 1.

But, once again, the grant lasts only five years. So what is Amistad doing to ensure its longevity and stability, to avoid the sudden closure of the support system and safety net many rely on? Anthony Harkness, outreach coordinator, says he's working to rebuild Almas de Amistad's reputation. "I've put a lot of effort into establishing relationships with the city and the county and the state to see if we can find some long-term funding sources," he says. Programs come and go in Albuquerque, he adds. "I don't think it's fair to the population that any program that serves anybody disappears."

Amistad faces the challenge of alerting old and new clients that it's back in action; it's one Aguirre and Harkness hope to remedy by making contact with other programs and through word of mouth. Maria, who volunteers at The Storehouse food-distribution center, says she tells everyone she sees that the day house is up and running again. Maria and Amistad client Vanessa Montoya hope to follow in the footsteps of women like Aguirre and Alice McMath and become part of the Amistad workforce.

Amistad, now at 510 Second Street between Marquette and Roma, provides an outlet for women to discuss issues related to drug addiction and homelessness they may not feel comfortable discussing in front of men. Domestic violence and sexual assault are difficult to talk about with a man in the room, says Montoya. She doesn't blame the program for being yanked out from under her. Instead, she’s grateful for learning how to stay clean from this network of women. "Even when they closed, if I didn't have the tools, there could have been a big chance of me backsliding," she says.

Additionally, Amistad offers HIV education, working with New Mexico AIDS Services, and works in what Harkness calls "soft case management." Women who come to the day shelter are advised on other services offered in Albuquerque. This time around, Amistad is also offering acupuncture to help women in withdrawals from drugs, and family counseling provided by Harkness, who is a marriage and family therapist.

"Oftentimes, there's a lot of therapeutic concerns between the mothers and the children based on history of incarceration, of being there and not being there and history of addiction," he says. "We'll just really focus on those family issues and resolving them." Though there are not yet many children in the building, Amistad hopes to have a child-care component available in the future. Many women at the former day shelter spoke of the place not just as a sanctuary, but also said the homey atmosphere made good meeting grounds for family members.

But the most unique aspect of Amistad is that anyone can walk in for services, no referral or appointment necessary. "It's not like, 'I'll get you in next Thursday,' ” says Harkness. "With substance abuse, that's critical. I might not be having issues next Thursday. I'm having them now." Aguirre, who herself was addicted to drugs and in prison 12 years ago, agrees that an accepting open-door policy is essential to helping women combat addiction and to regaining clientele. "Even today, two women were just walking by that had been in this program prior, and they actually came in," she says, gesturing toward the glass front door that opens to the busy streets of Downtown. "They are going to get involved again. They didn't even know we had reopened."

Sanctuary Grows New Roots

Day shelter for homeless women seeks to replant itself in Albuquerque

As Maria helped the new staff of Almas de Amistad set up shop again, she recognized some of the furniture. Couches, shelves and knickknacks from the old Amistad, open for about six years as a sanctuary for women from the streets trying to get clean. Amistad lost a federal grant and shut its doors at the end of February, ceasing the specialized services it provides to homeless and drug-addicted women. "The first week I found out they [reopened], I came and started painting with them," Maria says.

Maria, who declined to publish her last name ["Maria's Story," May 24-30], was comforted to see the old furnishings that surrounded her during her ongoing, years-long trek to sobriety. She dusted them off, vacuumed and helped the part-old, part-new staff of Almas build what they call a sanctuary. Low lights, comfortable couches, a kitchen area, group therapy rooms that look more like pleasant sitting roomsthe address is different, but the mission remains.

Program Director Mary Aguirre says her main priority was making Amistad a safe place, "like a home where people can come and sit wherever they want." Amistad maintains an open-door policy. Anyone can walk in and use the kitchen, hang out and receive individual counseling or become part of a group. With a new federal grant at its disposal, the center reopened its doors Oct. 1.

But, once again, the grant lasts only five years. So what is Amistad doing to ensure its longevity and stability, to avoid the sudden closure of the support system and safety net many rely on? Anthony Harkness, outreach coordinator, says he's working to rebuild Almas de Amistad's reputation. "I've put a lot of effort into establishing relationships with the city and the county and the state to see if we can find some long-term funding sources," he says. Programs come and go in Albuquerque, he adds. "I don't think it's fair to the population that any program that serves anybody disappears."

Amistad faces the challenge of alerting old and new clients that it's back in action; it's one Aguirre and Harkness hope to remedy by making contact with other programs and through word of mouth. Maria, who volunteers at The Storehouse food-distribution center, says she tells everyone she sees that the day house is up and running again. Maria and Amistad client Vanessa Montoya hope to follow in the footsteps of women like Aguirre and Alice McMath and become part of the Amistad workforce.

Amistad, now at 510 Second Street between Marquette and Roma, provides an outlet for women to discuss issues related to drug addiction and homelessness they may not feel comfortable discussing in front of men. Domestic violence and sexual assault are difficult to talk about with a man in the room, says Montoya. She doesn't blame the program for being yanked out from under her. Instead, she’s grateful for learning how to stay clean from this network of women. "Even when they closed, if I didn't have the tools, there could have been a big chance of me backsliding," she says.

Additionally, Amistad offers HIV education, working with New Mexico AIDS Services, and works in what Harkness calls "soft case management." Women who come to the day shelter are advised on other services offered in Albuquerque. This time around, Amistad is also offering acupuncture to help women in withdrawals from drugs, and family counseling provided by Harkness, who is a marriage and family therapist.

"Oftentimes, there's a lot of therapeutic concerns between the mothers and the children based on history of incarceration, of being there and not being there and history of addiction," he says. "We'll just really focus on those family issues and resolving them." Though there are not yet many children in the building, Amistad hopes to have a child-care component available in the future. Many women at the former day shelter spoke of the place not just as a sanctuary, but also said the homey atmosphere made good meeting grounds for family members.

But the most unique aspect of Amistad is that anyone can walk in for services, no referral or appointment necessary. "It's not like, 'I'll get you in next Thursday,' ” says Harkness. "With substance abuse, that's critical. I might not be having issues next Thursday. I'm having them now." Aguirre, who herself was addicted to drugs and in prison 12 years ago, agrees that an accepting open-door policy is essential to helping women combat addiction and to regaining clientele. "Even today, two women were just walking by that had been in this program prior, and they actually came in," she says, gesturing toward the glass front door that opens to the busy streets of Downtown. "They are going to get involved again. They didn't even know we had reopened."

Almas de Amistad, at 510 Second Street between Marquette and Roma, is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. No appointment necessary.

 
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