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FARMINGTON — For years, The Roof, a shelter operated by the Salvation Army and funded by Farmington, has served as the only "wet shelter" in San Juan County.

A wet shelter provides a safe place for inebriated individuals to spend the night. Wet shelters are relatively rare within the United States; most shelters require clients to be sober when using their services.

The Roof now has company in the form of Exodus Peer to Peer Native Recovery, a drop-in center and shelter located at 419 E. Main. Exodus operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week, all year long. Run by Lilah Westrick, Exodus focuses on helping American Indians break the cycle of substance abuse and get off the streets by offering faith-based peer counseling.

Farmington Police Sgt. Shawn Scott oversees the District Coordinator Unit, which includes the bicycle officers who interact daily with street inebriates in the downtown area. Scott believes Exodus fills a significant hole in Farmington.

"The fact that Exodus is here is phenomenal," he said. "It will serve a similar function as The Roof, but will operate all year long, and that will have a huge impact."

For officers trying to get inebriated individuals off the streets, the only option during the summer is to take them either to detox or to the hospital. If criminal actions are involved, they can be arrested, Scott said.

"I can only estimate the large cost to the city when detox is full and we have to take them to the hospital. If we can take them to this shelter, it's a phenomenal savings to the city," Scott said. "We've had to turn away people who are intoxicated because sometimes there's no room at detox, or they have behavior problems. In 16 years, though, I've never had to turn away someone who is legitimately homeless and needs help. We can always find help for sober people needing shelter."

With 20-25 beds, Exodus will help fill some of this need.

It may be too early to tell, but Westrick has noticed an interesting phenomenon.

"We don't require them to be sober," Westrick said, "but we've noticed a lot of them trying to come in sober. In fact, they will do anything to keep me from thinking they're inebriated. They want to keep volunteering here, and they want to help counsel each other. In order to do that better, they are realizing it's better to be sober."

Exodus also provides employment and education counseling and assistance, helping residents obtain their GEDs. Exodus hires its employees from the homeless population, and Westrick hopes others in the community will consider her clients when looking to hire.

Exodus also provides meals to clients, but Westrick said the meals are prepared outside of the Exodus building because she does not yet have funds for construction of a kitchen, and she and the other Exodus workers provide the food themselves. Other funding for the center comes from donations, from assistance by Optum Health and other nonprofits such as Frontline Mission and Catholic Charities, but the funds are quickly dwindling.

San Juan College's Service Learning Program is also exploring collaboration opportunities with Exodus, and has allowed several psychology and sociology students a chance to work with Exodus clients on a limited basis.

"The students are not trained professionals, but it's a win-win situation as it gives them real-life experience in social work while helping the organization," said the program's coordinator, Mip Vansuchtelen. "We're interested to see how this organization will grow and to see if there will be additional opportunities for service learning in the future."

Exodus is hosting a free multicultural cookout for the homeless at the Brookside Park amphitheater from 1-9 p.m. Friday. Several mental health agencies will be available to provide free assessments and screenings.

"Many of these people don't go for treatment because of a lack of trust," said Westrick. "I wanted to provide an opportunity for people to get together in a festive atmosphere so they can learn what help is out there in the community."

For more information, contact Westrick at 505-701-0153, or e-mail exoduspeertopeernativerecovery@yahoo.com.