Homeless challenge takes center stage in Valley forum

Melanie Jacobson

Melanie Jacobson

COTTONWOOD -- Support groups and individuals from throughout the Verde Valley gathered Friday at the Verde Valley Guidance Center Friday to focus the response to the local homeless issue.

The Verde Valley Homeless Coalition has been talking for a couple of years about options. There is an active feeding program at Riverfront Park each week. The Catholic Charities operates the Loft day use center as well as providing emergency housing and transitional housing. The VA also has some opportunities too, but Ed Sheir, the VA case manager for the agency's homeless program, says there are many people that are overlooked.

It's the VA that proposed the Summit to bring together non-profit groups with an interest in the homeless problem and to present models to implement.

"The VA has a mandate to end homelessness in five years, by 2015. The six pillars to end homelessness is the formula the VA adopted. They want to work with the community because obviously the VA can't do it alone and work with the community so that we are not duplicating services," said Sheir.

Tom Isakson, the program manager for Flagstaff Shelter services, who has 20 years of work in various formats, described the options and discussed the Flagstaff facilities. There is nothing wrong with being a "survival shelter," he said. He focused on two other approaches: the "platform" shelter provides services like computers and other services to all the homeless to take the next step.

The Loft provides this kind of services, washing machines, telephones, email, etc.

The ultimate shelter is a "catalyst," said Isakson, that provides counselors, transitional housing and life skill classes to move the homeless into independence.

Melanie Jacobson, the Executive Director of United Way of Yavapai County, gave participants a "logic model" to create a successful funding proposal.

Her study shows that it costs $40,000 per individual to provide for the homeless including shelter, incarceration and justice costs and other related services. A person who has a shelter costs about $16,000.

Homelessness is the No. 1 issue for United Way this year. A related issue is the number of people -- a figure of 25 percent -- who are food insecure in Yavapai County. Jacobsen says in Cottonwood alone, 85 percent of school children qualify for free and reduced lunches. Backpack programs are now widespread so that children have food to take home with them in backpacks over the weekend.

Catholic Charities Program Director Carol Quasula discussed the existing provisions as well as the Mingus Center that is proposed as a Transitional Living Center solution. While Catholic Charities is leading an effort to purchase the Mingus Center, Quasula says there is a large gap in the effort to underwrite the annual budget funding.

Participants were given the chance to tour the facility after the summit meeting.

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