Moving into a new home is an exciting event, but for people who have experienced homelessness, the joy is especially poignant. In Santa Fe, the renovated Stage Coach Motor Inn is preserving its classic nicho and viga architecture and working to preserve a sense of permanency for some new tenants.
Mark Olson can't seem to get the smile off his face, and he has a lot to be thankful for - not so previously.
(Laughs)"Mmm, no, for awhile there I couldn't smile for a long-time because of what was happening. Still the disability is kinda depressing."
A year and a half ago Mark came to Santa Fe from California after a perfect storm of bad luck that began with a diabetes-related nerve disease that nearly ruined his life, and ended his paralegal career.
"Losing my career, losing my house - I had a beautiful 3-bedroom house on the side of the mountain overlooking the valley - it was beautiful. I had to give all of that up just because of this disability."
But things are looking up, now that Mark has a place to call home. Stage Coach apartments are built to high energy efficiency standards. They are a collaboration of several organizations, including the Santa Fe Housing Trust and the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. The complex offers a variety of amenities and for people like Mark Olson, easy access.
"It's pretty modern - I have a nice bathroom. I have air conditioning and heating in both the bedroom and my front room. The kitchen is a kitchenette but it's perfect for somebody like me. I can cook, I can clean, everything's in an accessible place that I can get to in my wheelchair."
"We all have barriers that we have to face, every single person," says Carol Luna-Anderson. She is executive director of LifeLink of Santa Fe, New Mexico's first long-term permanent homeless program providing supportive housing. The Stage Coach apartments are an expansion of their work to prevent homelessness or provide services and homes for those who've lost them.
"Whether you are in the poverty level, whether you are very well off and very well educated, all of us have barriers to overcome."
Tenants in the 60-unit complex will be mixed income, including families with children, formerly homeless folks, and people like Mark Olson who have disabilities. Homeless advocates say this provides a less institutional approach.
Hank Hughes is director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. He says projects like this are also cost-effective, and that studies have shown it costs less to house people - $3-dollars a day versus 440-dollars a day for them to remain homeless.
"…and this is because people who live on the streets are very high users of expensive things like emergency rooms, police and fire services, psychiatric hospitals and even jails," says Hughes.
Hughes notes there are 14 social services agencies that are contributing to the success of the $12-million venture at Stage Coach, with a service coordinator on-site who ensures residents who need help, get to their appointments. These are the kinds of services that people like Mark Olson can't live without.
"I don't have to worry about medical because they have given me the services that I need; they've helped me fight to get my social security; they've ensured I have food."
Besides features like community gardens, orchards and a fitness course, amenities at Stage Coach will also include computer training and after school programs for its youngest residents.