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Message to community on homelessness: Affordable, accessible housing is the answer

Jessi Hans of CCJ, left, and Carole Benedict of US Vets talk about collaboration and efforts to assure no duplication of services among area nonprofit service providers. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Jessi Hans of CCJ, left, and Carole Benedict of US Vets talk about collaboration and efforts to assure no duplication of services among area nonprofit service providers. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Asked to name the main causes of homelessness, most people likely will come up with answers that encompass mental illness, addiction, unemployment or job loss, family dysfunction, even choice.

Two Prescott homeless prevention leaders, U.S. Vets Prescott Executive Director Carole Benedict and Coalition for Compassion and Justice Executive Director Jessi Hans, admit those are typical answers.

They suggest the truth, though, is as basic as the word homeless suggests: The homeless are homeless because they have no home — at least no home they can afford or are welcome to live in on their own.

It is why these women, with the backing of fellow nonprofit service providers, business partners and many community supporters, are championing the need to provide a varied supply of affordable housing that will appeal to and suit the needs of those who need a permanent address.

The two shared their vision and the community’s collaborative effort to prevent and end homelessness as it now exists at the Democratic Women of the Prescott area luncheon on Wednesday, July 24, at the Centennial Center.

In the coming months, U.S. Vets Prescott and CCJ will be celebrating the opening of some new housing options aimed at providing more housing options to both homeless veterans and CCJ shelter clients.

U.S. Vets will open a new $8 million headquarters and housing complex on Whipple Street by year’s end. The facility, which is a public/private partnership with Bridgepointe Communities, will house its 72-bed transitional housing as well as 88 permanent supportive housing apartments, 59 more than now exist.

Benedict is working to obtain federal funds to convert the existing transitional housing complex on East Gurley Street into an assisted-living style complex for senior veterans. She noted that 65 percent of the 257 at-risk or homeless veterans they served last year are older than 60.

On Monday, July 29, CCJ will celebrate the groundbreaking of two lodge-model style homes that will house four to six homeless men and women, offering them a private room and patio space with a shared kitchen, living room and bathrooms. This project is a partnership with Dorn Homes and other area tradesman who intend to donate these homes to CCJ, with the $300 a month rentals from clients to then be used to build similar models for other clients.

Hans explained that for some of the people the lodges will be their “forever home.” For some other clients, these homes will be a stepping stone toward community home ownership.

The CCJ goal is to gradually find affordable housing options for all of its shelter clients.

In the two years since the Stagger Straight shelter on Madison Avenue opened, Hans said, the agency has been able to place 110 of those men and women into various types of housing; the residences range from renovated RV vehicles and mobile homes up to a single-family house with three sleeping cottages in the backyard. Some clients have been able to find subsidized rental apartments; some have relied on CCJ’s home repair team to enable them to fix problems so they can stay in their existing homes.

The lodges are the newest model, with Hans also working on some plans for what she refers to as a “Forever Campground,” or outside space that is safe and supervised for those who prefer that lifestyle.

When the shelter first opened, Hans said, they were averaging between 55 and 60 people a night. The number now is about 32 a night, with that expected to drop even more as new housing opportunities emerge, she said.

Part of CCJ’s focus on ending homelessness is meeting clients where they are, and helping them find their dignity again so that shame does not impede their ability to climb over the obstacles impeding their progress.

The agency has three advocates who work closely with clients to help them maximize their skills and find resources suitable to enabling them to be independent again, she said.

“We are trying to build a culture of motivation,” Hans said, noting the agency’s goal is to help each client see that “tomorrow they can be a better version of themselves than they were today.”

Both women hailed the area’s collaborative spirit, with area nonprofits working together to assure no one is wasting time or resources on duplication so that pressing needs are managed and addressed.

“When we are able to find solutions, we are so much more powerful,” Hans said.

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