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FARMINGTON – After spending most of the year searching for adequate office space, the Shiprock branch of the Navajo Nation Department for Self Reliance has opened a new location here.

Fifteen staff members started working in an office at 710 E. 20th St. earlier this month.

The department was established under the tribe's Division of Social Services and is responsible for administering the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Personnel also assist customers with support services to achieve self-sufficiency.

Department Manager Roxanne Gorman said in an interview this week that department officials searched “high and low” for a location in Shiprock, but after reviewing 24 sites, they could not find one with enough space to accommodate the staff and customers.

The search for a new location started when the tribe’s Office of Environmental Health issued a closure order on Dec. 10, 2014, for the southeast portion of the Ayani Neez Building after a complaint was made about gas, sewer and mold odors, as The Daily Times reported on Dec. 19, 2014.

Employees removed equipment and files from the building on Dec. 18, 2014.

The department set up a temporary office in January near the Shiprock Chapter house. In February, the staff approached the Central Consolidated School District with a proposal to rent the former Kirtland Business Office.

Gorman said the offer to CCSD did not yield any results. After searching throughout Shiprock, the department received permission to relocate to Farmington, she said.

“It was 11 months of displacement,” Gorman said.

She added that, during those months, the Shiprock branch customers, who can total up to 400, were not receiving full services, and department personnel drove department vehicles to the Gallup location to input and process customers’ information so financial assistance could be paid.

Department officials say they understand transportation could be an issue for customers with the new location, so four staff members will continue to work at the small office in Shiprock, where they can drop off documents for their caseworkers or schedule transportation to the Farmington office, Gorman said.

The small office is located inside a building owned by the Shiprock Chapter house. Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said the department approached the chapter about renting the space.

“We know the nature and extent of service they provide to the people, so we couldn’t let that service be interrupted. …We’re doing all we can to accommodate them,” Yazzie said in an interview this week.

Chapter officials knew the department’s previous location was problematic because the department was not the first group to vacate the building, he said, adding there is a lack of office space throughout the community.

“This should send a strong message to the Navajo Nation that we are in dire need of adequate office space in Shiprock,” Yazzie said.

He added the chapter has a site ready for development as a tribal office complex, and chapter officials hope a building will be constructed one day.

As for the new location here, Gorman said it is an upgrade for employees and customers. On Dec. 10, the new location hosted a customer appreciation day to celebrate the space and to thank customers for remaining patient with the situation, she said.

Erica Lee, program supervisor for the Farmington and Shiprock locations, said in a department press release the new office is a safe building for customers to use while working with their caseworkers.

"Confidentiality will be ensured since all direct service staff have offices with doors. Customers will begin to receive faster service and be given more time to develop their plans with their caseworkers," Lee said in the release.

Future plans for the Farmington location include a training center and computer lab for customers to use for job searches and complete computer program activities.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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