My Friend’s Place serves as a temporary landing place for runaway, abused or homeless youth. The 5,000-square-foot facility has 16 beds, community spaces and offices.
The facility, 880 E. Idaho Ave., closed in May 2017 after providers determined it wasn’t financially feasible to run. A fire in January 2018 damaged the then-abandoned shelter and prompted community leaders to advocate for its reopening.
A blessing in disguise
“This facility really is rooted in the passion, love and support from the community for our kids,” Brian Kavanaugh, CEO of FYI, said at the facility’s grand re-opening Thursday, Feb. 28. “That’s what we stand behind and that’s what drives us forward.”
Jolene Martinez, clinical director at FYI, said the new facility’s opening is a demonstration of a successful partnership between the city, local businesses and nonprofits.
She also said the fire was also a blessing in disguise for the youth shelter — the only one of its kind in southern New Mexico.
“We’re one of the only low barrier youth shelters licensed at the highest level of care,” Martinez said. “It allows us to be really accessible, there’s not a lot of restrictions for youth that need to come here. As long as they’re homeless or in need of support services, there’s not a whole lot of criteria that they need to access the shelter and that’s big because in a lot of other locations they require a certain number of issues. We don’t require any and that’s really different and community friendly.”
Veronica Doil, a Care Coordinator at the facility, said she was thankful that the new shelter for teens is open again.
“It will definitely fill a huge gap in services. We haven’t had a youth shelter in many years. It’s going to be an instrumental tool to our community,” Doil said.
A rocky start
A teen group home at the same location and a companion shelter for short stays were together called Stepping Stones and for years FYI provided services at the facilities. A mid-2013 shakeup of behavioral health services put into motion what would eventually lead to the shelters’ closures.
When the state raised allegations of possible Medicaid fraud against FYI and other service providers in 2013, an Arizona nonprofit took over as the service provider for Stepping Stones.
FYI was eventually cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
The Arizona company, La Frontera, left the state after floundering financially.
Another nonprofit, La Clinica de Familia of Las Cruces, then took over services at the shelters. LCDF struggled to pay for operations because of low occupancy rates and a requirement to upgrade the facilities. They halted the service and the homes closed.
Even though different entities provided services at the homes, a companion organization to FYI retained ownership of the properties.
FYI had planned to re-establish services at the group home and even had funding to get the project off the ground. Then, vandals set fire to the building on Jan. 18, 2018, throwing a wrench in the organization’s plans.
Following news of the fire, community leaders stepped up, including Marci Dickerson, a local business owner who also spearheads the nonprofit Revolution 120.
Dickerson said she was swayed by the story of two teens living out of their vehicle. The homeless teens needed services and a place to stay, but there was no provider.
“In January 2018 Brian (Kavanaugh) called me and said there was a problem and we needed to do something about it,” Dickerson said.
A day after the fire, Revolution 120 held a fundraiser that brought in $25,000 in 12 minutes, Dickerson said, with money earmarked to help rebuild and reopen the burned shelter.
On Thursday, Kavanaugh thanked Dickerson as one of three business leaders to support the project since the beginning. The others being Wanda Bowman of Ashley Furniture HomeStore and James Evans of the construction company EROD Inc.
All furnishings inside the home were donated by Ashley Furniture and EROD rebuilt the facility after the fire.
Teens who are living alone or in the streets, or facing abuse at home, can be referred to My Friend’s Place by anyone by filling out an application on FYI’s website, www.fyinm.org. School personnel, counselors, police officers and state agencies complete most of the referrals.
Teens can stay up to 90 days and have access to behavioral health, medical care, food, clothing, shelter and life-skills training. The shelter can accommodate up to 16 youth at a time.
There are eight bedrooms — the four upstairs are designated for girls and four downstairs for boys. The facility also includes a new, state-of-the-art kitchen, a laundry room, a community living space with a study, several bathrooms and offices for FYI personnel.