VVHC overnight shelter open every night since Christmas

Verde Valley Homeless Coalition emergency shelter on South Main Street has been open every day since the day after Christmas, including here early Thursday morning. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

Verde Valley Homeless Coalition emergency shelter on South Main Street has been open every day since the day after Christmas, including here early Thursday morning. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

It was 17 degrees Wednesday night; and it was the 17th night that a dozen homeless people found refuge in the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition’s new cold-weather shelter this winter.

Because of the most recent span of cold weather, the Cottonwood shelter has taken in homeless every night since Christmas.

VVHC Director Raena Avalon has been preparing for this for months.

The emergency shelter didn’t exist last year, but now, a maximum of 12 homeless people living in the area don’t have to camp in cold tents, or try to stay warm with candles, campfires or propane.

Even though Avalon and her team of volunteers have been able to take in 12 people every night, a few have been turned away because of the limits of their building size and fire codes. But not many have been turned away, she pointed out.

Last January, the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition was given approval from the City of Cottonwood to have an emergency homeless shelter when temperatures dropped below 35 degrees at Y.E.S. The Arc. But that location hardly got any traffic.

Over the summer, VVHC opened a daytime drop-in center to get people out of the heat. The center assists people with permanent housing, mental and behavioral health services, employment and nutrition. The center was given Cottonwood City Council approval in November to operate as an emergency overnight shelter when the temperature drops below 35 degrees.

But now, it’s been 17 and 18 degrees at 7 a.m. in the morning outside, Avalon said.

“We have blankets, sheets and pillows,” Avalon said. Right now the shelter is blowing up inflatable bed mattresses donated by Big 5, she continued, but the shelter is hoping to get some cots because the mattresses will eventually develop wear and tear.

Avalon said she is amazed by the donations from the community. She said they now have lots of clothing, socks and shoes, and have been getting food donations so they can provide dinner at the overnight shelter.

“The community has been overwhelmingly supportive,” Avalon said. “We were open Christmas day and we had food galore for 40 people.”

Avalon said she could use some more volunteers for the overnight shelter, snacks and food donations from people with a food-handler’s card for the shelter’s meals.

Thursday morning, men and women were sprawled out on inflated mattresses in the small converted office, which is now the shelter.

One by one, they woke up at around 5:45 a.m. in almost total darkness to pour coffee and exchange conversations in a whisper as some of the men and women still slept under blankets next to their boots and backpacks.

All the mattresses are inflated at night and deflated in the morning and packed away with the blankets in bins at 6 a.m., as the shelter is converted for day-use with computers, couches, chairs and tables to get the homeless off the streets.

Wednesday, an elderly man sat at the shelter covered in a pile of coats and what appeared to be his worldly belongings in bags while a woman told Avalon they were “starving.”

Volunteers quickly gathered up some turkey from the refrigerator and some snacks from the table. Avalon was busy answering calls from Angie’s House trying to get the couple a place to stay.

Another woman worked on a computer nearby while three men sat on a couch waiting, sheltered from the cold weather outside.

Cottonwood City Council approved $12,000 for the drop-in center at 14 S. Main Street next to the Circle K, which opened in August.

The Verde Valley Homeless Coalition formalized its organization in December of 2015 after the exposure death of an area transient who was found lying in a vacant lot near South Main Street in Cottonwood.

Currently, about 20 to 25 people come into the shelter during the afternoon hours, she said.

The shelter is open Monday through Friday, 1-5 p.m., and when the temperature drops below 35 degrees, from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., she said.

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