Momentum builds to find solutions to Verde homlessness

The homeless coalition meets in the Cottonwood Library on Wednesday morning to continue to look at way to look at housing homeless people in the Verde Valley, especially during cold spells. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

The homeless coalition meets in the Cottonwood Library on Wednesday morning to continue to look at way to look at housing homeless people in the Verde Valley, especially during cold spells. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

COTTONWOOD - A large crowd gathered at the Cottonwood Library Wednesday to work on shelter solutions for Verde Valley homeless populations.

Jackie Nairn of Catholic Charities is the volunteer chair of the sub-committee on Emergency Shelters. She said the goal of the committee is a "permanent solution, not just this season, but as a stepping stone to the future."

There are many services in the Verde Valley for homeless and people without means, but overnight shelter has always been elusive. In the Verde Valley, Catholic Charities provides a variety of services including tents, sleeping bags and the Loft, a day time drop-in location where homeless people may use a phone or computer, take a shower and wash clothes. The Old Town Mission provides meals, clothing and other services. A number of pantries and food banks provide other help.

The larger Verde Valley Homeless Coalition has been more an "informational group" over the years, said Eliza Louden, chair of the group, and there has not been many concrete projects. "Now we want to meet regularly to become an action group. The chief goal is to end homelessness," she said.

The Coalition has formed an Executive Committee. The Emergency Shelter sub-committee is a sub-group of the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition.

"We have to start with a plan," said Nairn. "The Coalition has a new start to it, and there are options."

"It's now a band-aid approach for a season," described Cynthia Strom, who is helping to organize the One Person One Night program. "A permanent shelter might be five years in the future," but options include One Person One Night and perhaps a rolling shelter.

Priscilla Masciarelli, who handles The Loft drop-in facility at Catholic Charities, also administers One Person One Night. She says the program has handled 29 people in the past one and a half months, when temperatures fall below 32 degrees.

Nairn said that Catholic Charities agreed to help underwrite One Person One Night, and they are asking for donations to support it with an average nightly motel cost of $50.

People can help supplement the program or make a donation through either Masciarelli or Cynthia Strom.

Cottonwood Councilman Tim Elinski suggested that if taxpayer money will be needed, the goal should be to provide "not just shelter, but also rehabilitation."

Members of the program hope to ask the Sedona City Council for a donation at the next council meeting.

So far, four Cottonwood motels have signed on, according to Cynthia Strom of Sedona, who helped to organize the program. She said, so far, "The comments have all been good, she said, "Good guest, well-behaved, gracious, not disruptive"

She said, "They are just regular human beings."

Sedona participants said they would like to have similar availabilities in Sedona and Cynthia Strom said she would coordinate with the Sedona volunteers to pursue opportunities.

The leaders have insisted the organization is intended to serve the entire Verde Valley.

Nairn also investigated shelter programs both in Flagstaff and Prescott said that the Flagstaff Shelter Services director recommended against building a permanent shelter and urged organizing a rolling shelter, which would occupy church, school or other large meeting space on a rotating basis. She said a shelter needs to have paid trained staff to handle difficult individuals.

At Prescott Shelter Services, recommendations were made to look at properties to rent or rehabbed.

Strom said she explored using churches as a rolling emergency shelter, but when the idea was proposed to the city, it became bogged down in red tape with demands for ADA facilities, insurance and conditional use permits.

One member of the Homeless Coalition, Isaiah Two Lives, who has advocated for the homeless across the country urged demonstrations and protests to break down bureaucratic obstacles to homeless shelters.

Angie Lozano was asked to talk about her donation of one of her sober living properties as a temporary homeless shelter.

She said she made available one of her private homes during from winter months of December through February last year, using volunteers to have oversight of the facility. The facility can accommodate about 12 people each night. She said, the biggest challenge had been having consistent volunteers to who need to remain awake during the 8 hours the facility is open overnight. Nairn suggested there might be other property owners who might also contribute a home for housing homeless.

Volunteers were asked to participate to prepare a cost analysis of operating a rolling shelter using church facilities and similar spaces.

The Coalition meet Jan. 13 at the Spectrum Meeting Center, 8 East Cottonwood St.

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