Sat, Feb

Coalition tackles ways to help the Verde Valley’s 150 homeless

Cottonwood News

As many as 150 Verde Valley residents, including a large number of elderly and children, currently live in tents, cars or temporary shelters.

With winter coming on, camping outdoors is a wet and cold experience, yet people without permanent homes must do what they can to survive.

To make the point, a table at Catholic Charities Verde Valley site displays all of the belongings of a 65-year-old grandmother who lived for nearly two years in a tent, sometimes next to the Verde River or other locations, at least until local authorities forced her to move on. Now in permanent housing, the woman no longer needs her cloth sleeping bag or other gear.

Catholic Charities Case Coordinator Marilyn Williams, center, leads a brainstorming session at a meeting of the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition in Cottonwood on Dec. 7. The group is trying to find ways to shelter the estimated 150 people in the Verde Valley who have no permanent homes.There are too many Verde Valley residents in similar straits, said Marilyn Williams, coalition chairwoman and Catholic Charities case coordinator.

That was the basic message from social service providers, health care professionals, a Cottonwood Police Department representative and others who brainstormed ideas for ending area homelessness at a meeting of the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

With people’s lives at stake, homelessness is a problem that can and should be solved, Williams told the gathering.

Ending homelessness is an ambitious goal, to be sure, but true believers like David Tardif, a formerly homeless man who now helps feed hot meals to Cottonwood residents in need, knows nothing is impossible.

“Prayer works,” Tardif said. “Maybe we just all need to get together and pray on it. It will happen. I believe it with all my heart.”

The message brought smiles to almost all of the 20 social service professionals who crowded into the small conference room at Catholic Charities to advance possible solutions. A variety of practical suggestions came forward.

Some, like Celebration of Youth founder Richard Corey, pointed to the plethora of vacant commercial buildings standing empty all across the county, places where homeless people could be situated, at least on a temporary basis.

Verde Valley Guidance Clinic spokesman and Clarkdale Vice Mayor Richard Dehnert suggested travel trailers as a possible solution.

“I bet there’s a lot of people out there like me who have a travel trailer just sitting next to their garage,” Dehnert said.

Renting space at a trailer park and getting homeless people into donated travel trailers would be a cost-effective way to provide temporary housing, certainly less expensive than purchasing or constructing more affordable housing in the area, he said.

Northern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System spokesman Ed Shier said the only way to “end” the local homeless problem is to secure permanent housing options for qualified applicants.

Verde Valley residents continue to lose their homes to foreclosure as the slump in the real estate market continues. With unemployment at 9 percent, “the job problem is also very serious” and a major contributor to homelessness in the area, she said.

“Homelessness is hitting closer and closer to people. It’s becoming more personal,” Catholic Charities Verde Valley Site Director Carol Quasula said.

“We do have a problem in the Verde Valley,” Williams said. “It’s not as big as in the big city, but we can learn from their programs. Some of them can be very successful here.”

An accurate count of homeless people in the area is difficult to come by. Estimates range between 75 and 150 chronically homeless people struggle to get a foothold in the Verde Valley, according to the most up-to-date information.

“The numbers out there are frightening,” Williamson said.

A local homeless drop-in center known as The Loft gives local people seeking a new start the chance to wash clothes, prepare food, make telephone calls and log onto the Internet.

Use of The Loft by first-time visitors continues to rise, suggesting as many as 25 people a month are added to the ranks of local homeless people.

The Verde Valley Homeless Coalition meets every three months. For more information, call 634-4254.