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Pictured from left, Mark Silla, Lindsey Givens, Danessa Vela, Paula Givens, Marina Serrano, Kathy Armendariz and Erica Ballejo pose for a photo at On the Move’s Outreach Center. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

It’s a late Saturday morning at the On the Move Outreach Center, and the organization’s volunteers are living up to its name.

As one group of ladies bustles out the door en route to a few local garage sales, Lindsey Givens and Mark Silla are checking inventory. Givens’ daughter, Paula, jumps up to help as a woman arrives with several boxes of items for donation. They range from coffee mugs to floor tiles, books to men’s jeans.

On the Move is Artesia’s nonprofit dedicated to aiding the city’s homeless and creating awareness of their plight. Sometimes, that awareness starts with simply convincing residents to acknowledge the existence of homeless individuals in the community.

“For a small town like this, there’s more than you would think,” says Silla. “Around here, it’s not as visible. But whether it’s one or a million, one person still counts.”

Givens says one of the most common questions those associated with On the Move hear is, “Are there really homeless people in Artesia?”

“Yes,” she says. “There are. So one of the main things is for people to be aware of that. And especially with winter coming on, it is really important that people know these are human beings out there, and they need help.”

Givens says homelessness took on a face for her in the late 1980s, when she became acquainted with a homeless man in Amarillo, Texas, through the Young Women’s Christian Association. He lived in a dumpster across the street. He was in his 40s, with the mental capacity of a 7- to 8-year-old.

In 1990, Givens and her family relocated to Artesia, and a few years later, she noticed an ad placed by Silla in the Daily Press seeking people interested in forming what would ultimately become On the Move.

“When my youngest daughter was a senior in high school, she wrote a paper for Robin Jackson’s English class called ‘Life Without a Roof,” Givens says. “And that was in 2002. So she was aware of things like that in this town, even back then.

“We find them, they find us… sometimes, they come and go, or they’re just passing through. But they’re here, and they need us.”

Silla says the last time On the Move attempted to compile statistics on the local homeless population, it stood at around 20 at any given time. Some have been homeless for an extended period of time. Others found themselves without accommodations suddenly, due to eviction or the loss of a job. Still others drift through Artesia on their way to somewhere else, seeking help for the few days they’re in town.

Stacks of clothing fill one room of On the Move’s Outreach Center. The staff say children’s clothing is in particularly high demand. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

On the Move does what it can for all of them, from providing information and direction for those who feel they’ve been wrongfully evicted, to issuing food or a bus ticket, to putting individuals up in a hotel for a few nights.

“A lot of times, people find the solutions to their problems with just a little help,” says Silla.

Givens laments the fact Artesia is without a shelter of some sort and says a facility like the tent city she once visited in the Seattle area would be of benefit.

“The best we can do is help somebody for a night, maybe two,” she says. “We need a shelter, but there’s a lot that goes into it. You’ve got to have the property, the manpower… you’ve got to have rules and regulations in place, security.

“It would be quite an ordeal, but it could be done. And it wouldn’t cost a lot of money to do it.”

In the meantime, On the Move has its Outreach Center. The building at 515 W. Centre Ave. was deeded to the organization earlier this year by Hermosa Church of Christ. The space isn’t large, but the volunteers make the most of every inch, and as Silla points out, they’ve come a long way from the days of distributing items out of plastic bags from the back of a van parked at local businesses on the weekends.

Stacked floor to ceiling in one room is clothing. Another area houses kitchenware, another toys. One room is devoted to furniture, including a coveted, high-quality mattress donated recently by a couple who couldn’t return it when it didn’t meet their needs but was told by the company they could be reimbursed if they donated the item to a charity.

One area near the front of the center is devoted to a cheerful display of available Christmas decorations, a reminder the holidays are near.

“Most everything in here goes out the door the same way it comes in: free,” Givens says. “We suggest a donation amount, and if people can afford to pay that, we definitely appreciate it. But if they can’t, so be it.”

Givens says children’s clothing is in high demand, as are blankets and towels. With cool weather already setting in, coats are needed, and Artesia General Hospital and EOG are currently conducting a coat drive for On the Move. Other items the center struggles to keep in stock include men’s pants, fire-retardant clothing, and women’s plus-size and maternity clothing.

As Paula Givens continues looking through the donated items dropped off by the passing good samaritan, she and her mother rejoice at finding two pairs of men’s jeans in a size needed by a client.

“It’s always nice when we can actually give something away that someone needs,” Paula says. “If there’s something someone needs and we don’t have it, we put them on a list, and it’s nice to be able to cross things off.”

Beds are frequently on that list.

“Those are very highly sought-after,” says Givens. “If one of the hotels switches out their mattresses, they’ll call us and we’ll get a bunch of them all at once. But most of the time, we’re low.”

To purchase needed items, as well as food, transportation or hotel vouchers, and for upkeep of their facility, On the Move also relies heavily on donations. The group holds a few fundraisers each year, including their current raffle, a benefit concert, and garage sales, but private contributions go a long way.

The Outreach Center, deeded to the organization earlier this year by Hermosa Church of Christ, is command central for the group. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

“Any monetary donations go right back out to help the homeless,” says Givens. “Like right now, we’re needing to purchase things like sleeping bags and tents, so when people come in and tell us they don’t have shelter, we can give them one of those to sleep in.”

On the Move is also always grateful for additional volunteers, those willing to help at the center or with the group’s outreach efforts and also those with a needed talent, such as computer skills to aid with the business end or creation of materials for awareness campaigns.

And having witnessed many times the public’s reluctance to get involved with the homeless, Givens urges Artesians to set aside any preconceived notions and see the individuals On the Move strives to aid for what they are: People. In need of help.

“Sure, we’ve been stung by a few,” she says. “But you can either let that callous you toward them or you can blow it off and say, ‘Hey, that’s not everybody.’ The public needs to be aware that these are not disposable people. These are people, too, just like you and I, and they shouldn’t just be tossed in the trash.

“There are human beings out there who don’t have a home, who don’t have family or friends to care about them, who are in dire straits and need someplace to live. And I think the whole key to the situation is to treat them with respect.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: On the Move volunteers will be set up at Fenn’s Country Market each Monday and Thursday evening selling tickets for its raffle, or contact Erica at 505-389-0105, Kathy at 575-489-7224, Marina at 575-571-9269, or Julia at 575-200-9650. The raffle features gift cards from a number of local businesses as prizes, and the drawing will be held Nov. 30 during Light Up Artesia. For additional information on donating to or volunteering with On the Move, visit the Outreach Center at 515 W. Centre Ave. or call 708-0033 or 365-5505.)