Originally Published: July 24, 2018 10:55 p.m.
Elissa LaFonte can attest to the power of moving from homelessness into a home of her own.
In the early spring of 2017, Elissa arrived at the Coalition for Compassion and Justice emergency shelter with no place else to go.
Within three months, CCJ staff arranged a job working at the agency thrift shop. The wages gave her the $450 she needed to rent one of the agency’s 14 Second Chance Housing mobile home units — 15 others have been purchased by former clients.
Once settled, Elissa tested for her driver’s license. She was then eligible to drive home a 1996 Chevy Lumina donated to the agency.
Elissa is just one of many CCJ homeless clients the agency is helping move from despair to dignity. Her story is an example of why CCJ Executive Director Jessi Hans, and like-minded nonprofit leaders, are unwilling to settle for emergency shelter as a solution to homelessness. They want to create an adequate supply of affordable housing options so when someone becomes homeless they have at least a transitional place for them to stay. Once housed, these men and women can then start piecing back their lives, be it addressing addictions, mental illness, employment or other related issues.
Hans and her fellow leaders target 2020 as the date to end homelessness as it exists in Prescott today.
To that end, Hans and some local movers and shakers are thinking out of the box to make the dreams of the lost and forgotten — a safe place to live — a reality.
The first start: a house on Hillside Drive bought last year by a donor where CCJ was able to locate three donated “sleeping cottages” as extended rooms to accommodate four to five clients at $250 a month.
The latest is a venture Hans and fellow leaders see as an answer for not only their clients, but as a model that can be replicated not only here but in similar sized cities and towns across the state and nation.
Hans is awed by the momentum and progress to turn what was simply a thought in her head into blueprints and a search for a suitable neighborhood.
Six months ago, Hans accepted an invite from Prescott Realty Co-Owner Jon Rocha to meet for coffee.
Rocha shared that he had a “heart” to help the homeless do more than survive. He wanted to create true affordable housing, not the existing stock of apartments that are still out of reach for those earning minimum wage. More than that, Rocha offered to use his professional clout to craft a “robust affordable housing plan,” Hans said. Rocha is now working with CCJ as the agency’s affordable housing developer.
With nary a blink, Rocha and Hans were reaching out to Dorn Homes, with those principals quickly drafting plans and giving the nod to becoming the builder for this first endeavor. A call to Dorn Homes on Tuesday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Eight shelter clients were asked to give voice to what they felt would work best for them. Then local architect Carol Russell volunteered to take their words and translated them into a client-centric housing design, one labeled a “lodge model,” a hybrid between studio apartments and congregate shelter.
As designed, this model will be a house in a downtown neighborhood with four bedrooms, each with a private entrance and porch. There would then be a shared kitchen, living room and bathroom. CCJ will assign a case manager to assist the clients to assure they adjust and get any other services they might require.
“The goal to end homelessness in Prescott benefits all of us; it creates a vibrant Prescott for everyone,” Russell said.
Community volunteer Carl Brown, who is heading up the project team, sees this as a win/win for all.
“Shelter was stage one, but we have to move on to stage 2. Then, hopefully, people can get going on their own,” Brown said.
CCJ is ready to invest $50,000 into buying land. The rest will be covered by $300 a month rents, donations and loans. CCJ receives no federal, state or city dollars.
“It grounds my soul,” Rocha said of the project.
Hans wiped away tears as she talked of the need for what she calls “CCJ speed” to get this done.
At 5 p.m., the shelter opens its door. Hans watched one night as 25 to 30 people raced for the door. She was appalled. In a community like Prescott, no one should have to fight for a bed to sleep in at night, she said.
“I see this project as a calling … the next step in the CCJ story,” Hans concluded.
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.