Homeless, addicted to stimulants and struggling with mental illness, Leighann had given up. In October of 2016, Leighann (whose last name was withheld for her safety) was in trouble with the law and got evicted from her parent’s house, leaving them with her four year old son.
“I was looking at 15 years (in prison) if I continued down that path,” Leighann said.
It became the turning point for her.
Leighann completed rehab, got a proper diagnosis and medication, applied and was accepted for a housing program called Saranam.
Saranam is a non-profit housing and education project designed specifically for families struggling with homelessness. It was started and is directed by Tracy Sharp, under the auspices of the Central United Methodist church in Albuquerque.
Sharp was looking for fresh solutions to the homeless problem.
“Everything that we have set up here revolves around and is integrated into the concept of a community,” Sharp said. “A group of families comes in once a year — so we’ll have ten families as a class or a cohort and they move through the program together.”
Saranam is doing its part to tackle a growing problem. According to The 2017 Point-In-Time count by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, there are over 1,000 homeless people on a given night in Albuquerque, with some of those being entire families.
Saranam has housed some 102 homeless families since 2004, according to its 2016 report.
Saranam owns an apartment complex of 24 units, where 20 of them are two or three bedroom apartments. The remaining four are one bedroom. Saranam fully furnishes each unit with donated household items before families move in.
After this everything in the apartment is then the families’ to keep.
“When they move in, they are overwhelmed because it doesn’t look like a hotel, it looks like a home. And then they open the pantry and the refrigerator and they see fresh meat and fresh food, all of it for them,” Sharp said.
Making each apartment feel like a home helps families settle in and begin to engage with their neighbors, Sharp said.
“They help each other out and have parties together, they really build their neighborhood together,” Sharp said.
The other part of Saranam’s approach is education. During the first few months of the program, parents take “life skills” classes that teach things like time management, parenting and budgeting, all designed as preparation for college.
During their second semester, residents choose an academic program at a local university. This year, all of Saranam’s residents who have completed the “life skills” classes are enrolled in either Central New Mexico College or the University of New Mexico, Sharp said.
Leighann said that the curriculum offered by Saranam is just what she needed to restart her life.
“It’s a blessing, I needed to get back to basics,” Leighann said. “Now I’m getting back to being a mom, I have a roof over my head.”
Saranam receives almost half of its funding from contributions. One quarter comes from an initial endowment given to the Central United Methodist Church and the remaining quarter is from fundraising and state and federal grants.
According to its annual report, Saranam has a 73 percent success rate of families exiting the program into stable living situations.
The organization is in the process of creating a business plan for expanding its facilities and funding, Sharp said.
For more follow Tom on Twitter.