By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun
According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the only federal agency whose sole mission focuses on preventing and ending homelessness, Arizona had an estimated 10,979 individuals experiencing homelessness on any given day in January 2020 – the last time for which figures are available.
By comparison, Illinois had 10,431, making Arizona’s stat more dramatic, since the Grand Canyon State’s estimated population of 7.4 million in January 2022, according the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is over 5 million people fewer than that of its Midwestern neighbor, whose January 2022 estimated figure is 12.5 million.
While there is no breakdown immediately available by region, Northern Arizona has its share of homelessness – and agencies attempting to address it.
“So many are struggling to find housing, especially in Northern Arizona,” said Catholic Charities Senior Program Director Sandi Flores.
According to homelesssheltersdirectory.org – a website that lists facilities – there are five homeless shelters in Flagstaff, including Catholic Charities Community Services Emergency Shelter.
Catholic Charities is the only Northern Arizona shelter that allows fathers to stay with their families as they seek assistance.
The agency focuses on two-parent- or single-father-with-children households who are homeless, since other Northern Arizona agencies provide shelter to single mothers with children or single men and women.
But the goal is well beyond merely providing a roof over one’s head.
Catholic Charities does not charge people to stay but does require those who are there to begin and maintain a savings plan.
The goal is to empower those there to eventually become self-sufficient.
To help, the agency provides life-skills classes, case management, and transportation to appointments and job interviews.
“A lot of people who come to us don’t have IDs. We work with agencies to obtain documents,” Flores said.
“We measure the success of each individual by their own circumstances. The success might be getting that driver’s license or ID to enroll in food stamps or ACCCHS,” Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System – the state’s Medicaid agency that offers health care programs to serve Arizonans.
Catholic Charities also has a 57-bed shelter in Bullhead City.
“We have a 57-bed shelter in Bullhead City and a family shelter offering a 60-90 day stay. They can come in for 90 days at a time as long as they have a firm end goal in mind [for sustainable living].”
In addition to its shelters, the agency offers “day services,” which allow individuals to come in, access a computer, receive a hot meal, do laundry, or pick up donated clothing, Flores pointed out. A medical clinic clinic is planned for the future, with Catholic Charities still working through numerous details to make that a reality. The clinic would be open to anyone in the community, she added.
Sometimes the assistance starts through an outreach done by staff who seek out the homeless in places where they exist “off the grid” – forests, riverbeds, or under bridges.
Teams – armed with supplies they can hand out – look for homeless in Coconino, Yavapai, and Mohave counties. They offer them granola bars, water, socks, and, in the summer, water and sunscreen: items that can be used to build rapport.
“Anyone experiencing homelessness has had serious trauma in their life. Some want to address it, and some aren’t quite there yet,” she explained.
The person also may have mental illness or a history of substance abuse. Flores noted there is a misconception that someone has to be Catholic to receive help. The agency assists anyone.
Flores estimated the teams encounter around 1,600 individuals in a year. Of that amount, around 200 wind up coming into Catholic Charities facilities.
“Everybody matters,” she said. “Sometimes folks just need assistance; they have struggled their whole lives. We believe in the dignity of everyone we encounter. Folks often feel overlooked and stepped on; sometimes a smile or kind words can result in seeing them start to open up.”
Catholic Charities’ support comes through government funding, private donations, and the Diocese of Phoenix Charity and Development Appeal.
The agency is now working to expand affordable-housing opportunities and justice-system-involved programs.
“More donor dollars would allow us to do that,” she said.
Catholic Charities operates with 101 staff in Northern Arizona’s five counties and 305 in central Arizona, which consists only of Maricopa County.
“We rely heavily on volunteers. Day services, mealtimes; we couldn’t do them without significant volunteers. We can use them in any of our programs. We work to find their passion and plug them into a spot that fulfills that.”
Flores also visits smaller communities on a regular basis and can pick up checks while there. Donors also can use regular mail.
Site tours are available for those considering volunteering.
“We use the story of the good Samaritan, most often that really defines what we do,” she explained. “We believe in the dignity of every person. We will engage you where you are. We are going to stop when no one else will.”