Photo by Nanci Hutson.
Originally Published: October 5, 2016 6:01 a.m.
Editor’s Note - This is part two in coverage of the CCJ meeting this week. Part one was published Tuesday.
PRESCOTT – Charlie Medina is loving life these days.
After more than a year of homelessness, the 52-year-old, self-employed plumber and his lady love, Pam, a former homeless woman he met at the city’s Fourth of July festival, are no longer sleeping in a tent outdoors.
Seven weeks ago, the couple moved into a modest, travel trailer donated to the Coalition for Compassion and Justice’s Second Chance Housing program.
On Saturday, the couple will be married at Granite Creek Park.
Medina credits CCJ, and its Safe Legal Sleep project, with their success.
He and his wife-to-be shared their story with a group of about 20 non-profit and faith leaders and a handful of landlords at a CCJ-organized breakfast on Monday, Oct. 3, in the Prescott United Methodist Church sanctuary on West Gurley Street.
“This was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me,” Medina said of the makeshift shelter that offered him the opportunity to be selected for a permanent place to live.
“I now have an address,” his fiancée said.
CCJ and other homeless advocates, including the local VA and U.S. VETS Initiative, are seeking to move beyond just offering the temporary, outdoor shelter to long-term, permanent housing arrangements for what they admit can be a difficult population. They are calling this initiative the 30-to-90 Project; their goal is to house 30 of their homeless clients within the next 90 days, or before Thanksgiving.
“We don’t want the parking lot. We want to find rental housing,” said Ed Shier, program manager for Northern Arizona VA Health Care System’s outreach to homeless veterans.
To do it, though, they know they need compassionate landlords willing to accept tenants who might not be able to afford market rents, who may have past criminal records and spotty credit history, some who will require short- and long-term case management supports to stay housed.
“I’m not a Pollyanna,” declared CCJ Executive Director Paul Mitchell. “This is hard work. And it doesn’t always work out. There is failure. There is a return to homelessness that breaks our hearts every time it happens. But we can’t stop moving forward.”
The area has a number of agencies, including the local VA and other homeless veteran-focused agencies, with federal grants to cover rental assistance and deposits, provide case management, even long-term vouchers. What it does not have is adequate, affordable housing stock, be it transitional or permanent.
In Prescott, with a 98 percent rental occupancy rate, the search for suitable housing for the homeless, and those on the fringe of poverty, is similar to crawling out of quicksand.
So CCJ and its fellow homeless advocates on Monday were seeking creative ideas on how to go from emergency shelter interventions, such as Safe Legal Sleep, to more permanent solutions. All of the agency leaders said shelter is not the end game; permanent housing for even those with less than stellar records is the answer.
With some strong opposition to CCJ’s current shelter operation, some have dubbed it Prescott’s “tent city,” Mitchell and fellow agency leaders said the best way to close it down is to come up with longer lasting solutions.
Their hope: more landlords willing to partner with non-profits to build up successful tenancy; a housing first model suggests that once a person is housed they can then work on their mental and physical health or addiction needs, employment skills and financial sustainability. Another effort is establishment of a county Housing Authority able to better leverage federal dollars for new, affordable housing units and complexes.
Pierce Property Broker Diane Tenison applauds the effort to generate more housing stock, and assured fellow landlords that the homeless have, and can, become reliable tenants.
“We can give supports in transition,” said Haley Hyatt, CCJ’s program director.
Someone who has been homeless for four years might need help adjusting to life in an apartment; something seemingly as simple as cleaning the toilet might be something they have never done, Hyatt said. Case managers can help these individuals become successful tenants, with persistence and patience.
And there are dollars available for such services. But housing must be obtained first, Hyatt said.
“This bodacious idea of 30-in-90 has drawn attention; we can do it,” Mitchell said.