Catholic Charities building in Farmington put up for auction

Hannah Grover The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — An organization that is dedicated to helping the homeless may find itself without a home soon.

The building that houses Catholic Charities, 119 W. Broadway Ave., has been put on a list of properties to be auctioned off in connection to the Diocese of Gallup's bankruptcy.

The diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2013 as a way to deal with several lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Catholic priests from the diocese. Since then, it has released a list of more than 30 priests the diocese believes have been credibly accused of abuse.

It is also auctioning off 36 properties located in Arizona and New Mexico as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.

Suzanne Hammons, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Gallup, said most of the properties are vacant. One other property on the list is also used for a ministry. That property, located in Winslow, Ariz., houses the St. Vincent de Paul Society's Food Bank, Hammons said.

"No one ever wants to enter a Chapter 11," Hammons said. "Ideally, the abuses never would have happened in the first place."

The properties will be sold during two auctions. Arizona properties will be sold on Sept. 12 at the Sheraton Crescent Hotel in Phoenix, and the New Mexico properties will be sold Sept. 19 at the Airport Sheraton Hotel, 2910 Yale Blvd. South East in Albuquerque.

The building that houses Catholic Charities is one of three San Juan County properties on the auction list. The other properties include a parcel of land near Navajo Dam and a parcel of land on Piñon Hills Boulevard near the intersection of English Road in Farmington.

Up until the bankruptcy was filed, San Juan Catholic Charities officials did not know the diocese was the official owner of the building. But in July, a representative of the bankruptcy court stopped by to hang up auction signs. Executive director Debe Betts said that was when the organization learned that the building was diocese property and that it would be auctioned off.

"I am very upset that we got put on the list for auction," Betts said.

She said San Juan Catholic Charities is probably the largest such organization in the diocese. In the last fiscal year, the charity served more than 50,000 people through its five programs.

"One of our most important missions is to feed the hungry and the homeless," Betts said.

A drop-in center at Catholic Charities provides breakfast five days a week and dinner four days a week. A food box program — which relies on donated food — also delivers food to people who need it.

An immigration worker stationed at the charity helps illegal immigrants achieve documented status. And a program provides transitional housing for homeless people in four apartments.

That program also provides classes for the residents, including cooking classes and money management.

"Many of the people we have, have been homeless so long that they've forgotten how to do some things," Betts said.

The charity has operated out of the building on Broadway Avenue for more than 30 years, and Betts hopes it will continue to offer services out of that building.

"My goal as executive director of Catholic Charities is to keep us where we are because we're right where we need to be to do our ministry," she said.

That means either finding a way to remove the building from the auction list or buying it.

Betts said some of the charity's clients have even offered their pocket change to try to help.

"Every penny helps," she said. "I never turn down anything."

While charity officials are hoping to have enough money to purchase the building, they also needs donations for the programs they run and for building repairs.

Betts hopes the building will be removed from the auction list.

"It does need to come off the auction block because we need that money for the programs, not to buy the building," Betts said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.