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Woman helps homeless Army veteran find temporary housing in hotel

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 12/8/2023

Dec. 8—Shanna Dorman had seen the clothes, personal belongings and a fallen tent bundled in a small heap on the side of the road for some time.

Then one day recently as a snowstorm blanketed the city, she saw a man walk to the pile, turn it into a makeshift shelter, and crawl in.

"He got in that, and I realized that pile of stuff was a human being," Dorman said.

Michael Martinez was the U.S. Army veteran living under the bundle of stuff.

Knowing the city had imposed Code Blue — designed to encourage homeless people to come in out of freezing temperatures or heavy snow — Dorman decided to help. She called the Santa Fe Police Department to see if an officer could pull Martinez in from the cold. Then she went home and made him some hot chile.

Though Martinez rejected an offer for a ride to a shelter the night of the storm, Dorman has since managed to raise enough money via a GoFundMe initiative to move him into a hotel on Cerrillos Road for a few nights.

It's not clear how much longer there will be funds to keep him there or to help him move to transitional, permanent housing, Dorman said.

In any event, getting him a few nights or even weeks in a hotel "is not a solution," she said.

She wants to see him get into an apartment and find suitable work.

"One step at a time," she said in an interview at the hotel. "One foot in front of the other, that's what this feels like. He's not on the street at this time. That's one step."

Martinez, who turns 62 later this month, said he had been living under the streetlights on Siler Road near Agua Fría, for about three months. His living situation was the result of familial conflict, he said. One day, he said, he decided to walk away from it all. Only problem was, he didn't have anywhere to walk to.

He added he had about $40 and two suitcases full of goods on him when he found a safe corner. He did not want to ask for help.

"Pride got in the way," he said at the hotel, not far from where he once slept.

Experts say his situation is not unique. According to advocates for homeless veterans, many who end up on the street exhibit a stubborn streak of pride and self-reliance that makes them reluctant to reach out for aid.

Just how many members of the homeless population are military veterans is unclear. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts regular one-night counts of homeless people, usually in January. Based on the agency's 2022 data, it reported 582,462 homeless people in the U.S — with about 33,000 listed as veterans.

HUD estimates there are 2,560 homeless people in New Mexico, but even those who provide services to homeless vets say it's hard to determine an actual count.

Martinez said he served in the Army from 1979-1984 as a military police officer. Since then, he said he's held a wide array of jobs, from yard worker to corrections officer to security guard and retail clerk. When his legs began bothering him, he stopped working full time. That was more than a decade ago.

He said he has lived in apartments, a family-owned mobile home and trailers on and off for some time, and was homeless for a while in 1997. He sold the last car he owned more than 10 years ago and bicycled around town for some time. That was before not one, but two, bicycles were stolen.

"I just take my life day to day," he said.

He likes to smoke tobacco and drink alcohol but said neither contributes to his street situation.

When the family conflict got to be too much, he just walked away, he said.

He said he chose to sleep in the open, near a Speedway gas station, because he felt safer under the bright lights there and with the relatively steady traffic that comes through the intersection.

He said no one bothered him, and quite a few strangers offered food, clothing, a sleeping bag and a tent — which, unfortunately, had one broken pole. That meant he had to reshape it as a tarp covering to keep off the snow and rain.

He bathed with a spray bottle and fresh water when and where he could, he said. Washing his clothes or his sleeping bag were not options.

Along the way, somebody stole his suitcases — in which he kept his military documents, including his discharge papers — when he ventured too far from his base camp.

With his birthday and the holidays coming up, he said he'd like to stay in a hotel — "It's beautiful," he said of his room, which includes a refrigerator, microwave and television set — and find a steady job and apartment down the line.

He shied away from the notion he is homeless. "Some people just get up and go," he said. "It's better than being at home."

When Dorman approached him about driving him to hotel for a few nights, he said he turned her down at first.

"I didn't know who she was," he said, adding, with a smile, "nobody ever asked me to go for a ride before."

Dorman said she once helped a homeless woman sleeping in a car by letting her rest in her business office for two years. She said she doesn't want to see Martinez back on the streets.

She said she is "terrified" at the idea.

"I don't know how this will end, but I hope it has a happy ending," she said.

Martinez seemed quietly grateful for Dorman's support.

"She didn't give up on me," he said.


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