The Coalition for Compassion and Justice Executive Director Jessi Hans is a realist about homelessness.
She knows it happens in big cities and small towns. She knows many of Prescott’s homeless by name.
She is equally a believer that homelessness is not inevitable. Nor is it impossible to end.
A pie-in-the-sky dreamer? Or is she simply someone willing to find a way around the obstacles?
Those who know her, work with her, and often think like her, say it’s both.
“It definitely is our goal to end homelessness by 2020,” declared U.S. VETS Executive Director Carole Benedict, who collaborates often with Hans and counts her as a like-minded partner in this pursuit.
In a meeting with a local developer, Benedict said she and Hans were unified in their response to the question of whether or not it is possible to end homelessness.
“When he asked can we do this, both Jessi and I said, ‘Yes, we can do this,’” Benedict said.
With that in mind, CCJ has adopted a new mission for 2019 — ending and preventing homelessness — to reflect the belief of these women and other area advocates.
Hans and the CCJ Board of Directors this month adopted a five-point outreach effort to reach what some might consider a lofty goal: repair of client homes to keep them housed; emergency shelter for those who need a safe place to sleep; a thrift store operation managed by clients as a means to offer employment readiness skills; client advocacy to help them overcome barriers that contribute to homelessness; and expanding its Second Chance Housing effort to more affordable housing options and partnerships.
Second Chance Housing started two years ago with three donated recreation vehicles. Today, there are 14 of these renovated homes rented to individuals and couples for $450 a month; 15 others have been purchased by one-time clients.
The next chapter of Second Chance Housing are models of affordable housing rooted in client preference and readiness, Hans explained.
One model opened this year thanks to a donor’s generosity — a downtown, single-family home with room for three, adjoining sleeping cottages. A client/manager lives in the house and three male clients rent the cottages for $250 a month.
In the coming year, CCJ is partnering with Dorn Homes and Prescott Realty owner Jon Rocha on a “lodge” model, or a blend of congregate and independent living for up to four adults.
The $180,000 project will involve a fundraising campaign to reimburse Dorn Homes for its front-end purchase and construction costs. The rents for this model expected to be ready by summer will be $450 a month.
CCJ’s intention is to replicate this model as it affords more building lots.
“Housing first has to be everybody’s goal in ending homelessness to do it, successfully,” Benedict said.
CCJ’s Stagger Straight shelter that opened just over a year ago was always envisioned to be a temporary solution to an immediate problem, Hans said. At $250,000 to operate, Hans said she would much prefer to use those dollars to create sustainable, long-term housing options.
This year, Hans said CCJ was able to move 35 clients from shelter beds into various affordable rental housing or treatment facilities.
At its busiest, the shelter was housing as many as 55 men and women a night, with a steady census of about 45 people. That number has now dropped to an average of 35 and lower, Hans said. Her goal for the coming year is 20 or less.
“Our end goal is to be able to house everyone,” Hans said of a countywide system that offers emergency housing and counseling needed to help individuals and families forge a path forward.
Her agency provides 72 units of transitional housing for veterans. Come August, Benedict said the agency intends to open an affordable housing/agency complex on Whipple Street with 60 additional studio apartments. Like CCJ, this project is a partnership with local businessman Dane Beck and Ray Zogob, principals with Bridgepoint Community in Prescott. Though this housing is intended to benefit veterans first, there are up to 12 units that could be used for other homeless clients, Benedict said.
“When you put someone in (permanent) housing it is so much cheaper for the community, more efficient and more successful. People have the space to get physically healthy; they’re not out in the elements when they’re trying to get sober or trying to find a job. They’re not wondering if they will be warm for the night, or where they can take a shower or wash their clothes,” Benedict said.
Hans and Benedict are not naïve. They know there will always be some who fall into homelessness. They simply want it to be a temporary setback, not a life sentence.
“What we want is functional zero,” Benedict said. “We want a unit for everybody who needs to access housing, a unit for anyone who wants it. Once we get to that point, it will be a huge shift in our climate and what we see with homelessness in our county.”
CCJ’s mission is not only admirable, it is doable, she said.
“I support (CCJ leaders) 110 percent in their mission,” Benedict concluded. “It’s really good stuff for the community — REALLY good stuff.”