Nonprofit pivots to help wildfire evacuees

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A UNM employee’s nonprofit is helping find temporary housing for more than 100 families impacted by wildfires.

Safe Space was started in 2018 as a way to create a safe space for at-risk youth. The nonprofit was started by Vanessa Garcia, a radiologic technology specialist at UNM Hospital.

“I’ve worked with youth pretty much all my adult life,” Garcia said, “so that’s pretty much why that’s always been my focus.”

Then came the wildfires – and Safe Space quickly pivoted to provide housing for evacuees.

“Sometimes the hotels direct people to me and, basically, I get a phone call that says, you know, ‘we’re evacuated, we need shelter,’ and I jump in and find shelter or they already have a place that they’re at. Basically, I’m a third-party payer,” Garcia explained.

Thanks to grants and donations, the Safe Space New Mexico Fire Relief Fund houses more than 125 families but they know much more help will be needed soon.

“At the end of the month, the Glorietta shelter, which is the largest shelter so far, is going to be closing down, because of their summer events that they already had scheduled,” Garcia noted. “So we’re expecting to have more evacuees. I believe they’re talking about, as a total, we probably have like 6,000 evacuees out there.”

More donations, still, are needed to continue to fund their efforts.

“It takes a whole community to do this,” Garcia said. “It takes everyone in order to make this possible and to get this done.”