Seeking shelter: Homelessness complex issue

Laura Grant, 19, talks on the phone Saturday at the Lighthouse Mission shelter. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The buildings are arranged in a triangle on a seldom-traveled side street, a stone’s throw from the railroad. Winter comes and two of the buildings fill up, one with toys and clothing donated for Christmas by locals, the other with men who usually sleep in parks or alleys.

Across the street, occupancy is more steady.

It is the hard knocks of life, not cold weather, which drives in its temporary residents, according to Richard and Geri Gomez, husband and wife administrators at the Lighthouse Mission, a non-profit, Christian corporation that provides food, clothing and shelter to the needy.

Sixteen people are staying in shelters provided through the mission. Seven are women.

“The homeless men, a lot of them live in the parks during the summer. That’s why we get more men in the winter. The women, they go through a hardship, that’s why they are here,” Richard Gomez said.

Most of the women who pass through the shelter are Clovis residents, he said. Some are transients.

Other New Mexico and American counties face similar challenges, Gomez said, the number of people without homes usually swelling along with county population.

Not everyone understands, however, that being without a home involves “much more than not having a place to stay,” said Geri Gomez.

“It sucks when you have no family and no friends,” said a 24-year-old red-head staying at the Lighthouse shelter who didn’t want to share her name.

Her steps are heavy today. She spent hours volunteering at the mission’s donation center, watching as needy families towed away furniture, clothing and toys. It reminds her, she said, of all that she doesn’t have.

“It’s depressing. It seems like nobody cares,” she said.
“I live without a sense of security, without any family. That really bums you out,” she added, her hands buried under the sleeves of an over-sized shirt, clunky shoes peeking from beneath a long skirt.

She followed a former boyfriend from San Diego to Clovis. When they broke up, she was left here alone, with a drug problem she has since trumped, she said. She e-mails her sister sometimes, but she and other family members cannot afford to help her, she said.

Other women who occupy the rooms have suffered, too. One mother was kicked out of her home, she said, when her stepfather found out she was pregnant at 16. She is 26 now, with four children under the age of 10.

Laura Grant, 19, grew up in an abusive home, a frequent runaway and hand-me-down in the foster care system. She graduated from Clovis High School. Now that her drug-corroded past is behind her, she said she dreams of becoming a computer programmer. She is near the end of her second semester at Clovis Community College. But there are still obstacles in her way. Grant doesn’t communicate often with her family, but she said those she does speak with tell her she will never attain a degree.

“I guess I’ve never really seen the real world on my own,” Grant said, scrunched in the corner of a nearly empty couch in a mission center office. “It’s scary. What do you do? Where do you begin?”

Her questions are very human, very age appropriate. The difference is girls like Laura don’t have anybody to help them find the answers, Geri Gomez said: If they need a ride to a job interview, there is nobody there to give it; if they need a dollar, there is nobody willing or able to spare it.

“I believe a lot of the women (at the shelter) are here due to lack of family support. I would say the biggest misconception about the homeless is that they choose to be homeless,” Geri Gomez said.

But “as long as they are trying for a better life,” she said, they will be given Lighthouse shelter.