Homelessness is at tragic levels in New Mexico, with young people particularly vulnerable. According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, even before the pandemic New Mexico had an estimated 3,333 experiencing homelessness on any given day, and of that 215 were unaccompanied young adults (aged 18-24).
Public school data reported to the U.S. Department of Education during the 2018-2019 school year shows that an estimated 11,574 New Mexico public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year.
In Northern New Mexico, Taos-based nonprofit DreamTree Project is working to address this problem, providing housing and support services to youth in crisis, which is especially important as the help that exists for adults may not be suitable for younger people. Los Alamos National Laboratory operator Triad National Security supported the nonprofit with a $5000 grant in 2021.
"A variety of scenarios contribute to youth visiting DreamTree," says Stacey McGuire, DreamTree's deputy director "These include housing instability, respite, various forms of trauma (such as abuse or human trafficking), lack of foster care statewide, and LGBTQIA+ experience."
Founded in 1998, DreamTree Project offers an emergency teen shelter for youth ages 12 to 17, and transitional housing and resources for youth throughout northern New Mexico, including Colfax, Mora, Rio Arriba, Taos and Union counties.
Its emergency youth shelter is open 24 hours a day, to youth ages 12 to 17 who don't have a safe place to stay (for anywhere from an hour to 90 days).
Transitional living program
DreamTree also offers safe and secure apartments for young adults ages 16 to 24. Residents live independently, while working and going to school. DreamTree has recently expanded its transitional living program, adding options in Española and Raton to the original Taos location.
While at the apartments, the young people work with case managers to set goals and develop steps to reach those goals. The program also includes weekly life skills classes on topics like cooking, shopping, budgeting, and how to shop for a used car.
"Triad's grant is being used to support costs associated with clients' move-in to independent housing situations, with items ranging from essentials like pots and pans to bedding and a dining room table," says McGuire. Both monetary support and donations of new or gently used household items are always particularly welcome to assist in this process.
In 2021, DreamTree's emergency youth shelter helped 106 young people and its transitional living program assisted 331 young people. In addition, its street outreach program offered support to over 100 youth and over 800 total community members in Northern New Mexico.
Leading cooperation among organizations
DreamTree Project is also leading a collaborative AmeriCorps program in the Taos area, which began in September 2020. The Enchanted Circle Corps (ECC) is a partnership among local organizations that provide supportive services, with the aim of coordinating and spreading the word about the variety of services and resources available for people in Taos County, including at-risk youth shelter and support, agricultural conservation, college preparedness for high school students and adults.
During the pandemic, DreamTree also joined forces with HEART of Taos to work with other local partners to establish a new emergency shelter program called Taos CARES Crisis Housing, in partnership with a local hotel. The program provides emergency housing and help navigating other services to men, women and families; CARES has had a nearly continuous waiting list since its inception in December 2020.
"If you or someone you know is experiencing housing instability, housing insecurity or homelessness, please reach out to DreamTree," says McGuire. "It is our pleasure and mission to help our community members – our family, friends and neighbors - better access housing and supportive services."