Imagine a brilliant woman who doesn’t “fit” into the ordinary world. I empathize greatly with the unique and bright minds of individuals who are misfits in our community and who are extremely vulnerable to experiencing homelessness. How many stories have we heard about the child prodigy/homeless man who sits down to play a masterpiece on an urban street piano, a homeless individual who can recite Homer’s Odyssey by heart or multiply any number by any other number in a split second.

Some of our most amazing community members face homelessness, are ostracized and judged and quite a few live “rough on the street” in Taos County. Some of them may tend towards reclusiveness or the need to be outdoors due to autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, which give them unique, fresh and valuable perspectives on life — very different from “mainstreamers” and neurotypicals.

We had such a woman walk into the HEART Resource Center today. Our guidance counselor, Wavia, had stepped out to do an emergency visit with a homeless woman living in her trailer who was on oxygen and couldn’t come into the Center. (Wavia, with HEART Staff Member Loup’s help, facilitated the relocation of her trailer to a secure and safe location with access to electricity and internet).

So, I was filling in for Wavia at the Guidance Counseling desk when — we’ll call her Teresa — Teresa came in and shared with me her story, a story she told with wit, patience and a sparkle of brilliance in her teary eyes.

Teresa lives rough, usually on land past the Gorge bridge but a few days ago she hitchhiked into town for supplies. As is her usual way, she slept outside here and there on familiar people’s property or in backyards in her tent (with permission – she always gets permission, she tells me). She prefers to live outdoors and has for almost a decade. She’s just not comfortable confined inside when she sleeps. In the process of sleeping rough in town, her disability card was lost or stolen. She knew, fortunately, exactly where to come to get help securing her replacement card – HEART.

By the time Teresa came in, she’d already run into road blocks – she’d run out of money, couldn’t pay for her storage unit where she kept her legal documents she needed to secure her new disability card (which she could only do at the Santa Fe Social Security office), didn’t know the blue bus schedule to Santa Fe, and didn’t have a mailing address to which the replacement card could be sent.

I listened, gave her water, let her rest and asked her what she needed. Thankfully, we were able to provide her the immediate assistance she requested:

  1. Our bookkeeper Lisa Olsen immediately called the storage facility and paid the overdue fee and late charge.
  2. We gave her emergency funds for food.
  3. We gave her a copy of the Santa Fe bus schedule that we keep at our Community Resource Station.
  4. We put her on the list of women for whom we accept mail at our PO BOX so she could receive her replacement card (a very popular service we provide, especially useful for securing new ID, birth certificates, EBT and disability cards, housing applications, and resumes/job hunting, etc).

It was a tender and moving encounter.

I told her, as I hugged her good-bye, “I hope this helps”. She stepped out of our embrace, put her hands on my shoulders and looked me square in the eyes and with a twinkling smile said, “more than you will ever know”.

Ama, Executive Director & Co-Founder, HEART of Taos

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