Flagstaff, AZ – Flagstaff officials say a homeless man whose body was discovered Wednesday may have died of exposure. It's been a cold December in northern Arizona; in Flagstaff overnight temperatures have been in the single digits each night this week. One group is spending the holiday season continuing its efforts to open an emergency homeless shelter. As Arizona Public Radio's Theresa Bierer reports the non profit agency Flagstaff Shelter Services plans to give people living in the woods or on the streets a better chance at survival.
TB ) A group of about 45 people bundled in coats, hats &I gloves held candles and listened to a long list of names...homeless people who died on Flagstaff's streets. The city's first Homeless memorial service was held last week. Flagstaff Shelter Services Chairwoman Wendy White said it was impossible to ignore the winter wind and temperatures in the teens.
Wendy White) It was very bitterly cold and I think anyone standing out there for the short procession we did for one block down to city hall and thinking about folks who are actually living outside right now could really see what it's like or think about what it's like to live out there.
TB) White is chairwoman of Flagstaff Shelter Services or F-S-S. She's also been a criminal defense attorney in Flagstaff for more than 20 years and working on the concept of a shelter for 2 and a half years. White says growing up in poverty and seeing the effects of homelessness for many years made her committed to finding solutions.
White) In my mind this is a critical community issue and no matter where one feels about it personally the issue of homelessness is in our community. And just ignoring it is not going to make any difference. It's not going to contribute to a solution in any way. And we as a community and a society have to take action to reduce the affects of homelessness and poverty.
(Bring up the sound of Steve Kugler talking)
(TB) Steve Kugler is also an advocate for the homeless. This time last year he was living in the forest, snowed in near Flagstaff's airport. He lost 8 toes to frostbite and now uses crutches as he struggles to walk.
Kugler) Homeless people are people. It's circumstances that put them out there. It isn't a choice.
TB) Kugler now lives in a small sparsely furnished house...one of Flagstaff's limited supply of subsidized homes.. With a warm roof over his head Kugler has more time to debunk what he calls the many myths about homeless people.
STEVE) 60% of the homeless population according to the National association for the homeless do not use substances. One out of 6 of the homeless population has a college education of some sort. There are myths. Stereotypes. And the hate is unreal.
TB) Despite earning a college degree in 1993 Kugler says he was unable to afford a home in Flagstaff. He says the city's low wages, lack of jobs with health insurance and high rents make it difficult to find housing. He also blames the Flagstaff City council for perpetuating discrimination against the homeless. 2 years ago the council passed an ordinance making it a crime to camp within the city limits. That ordinance put Flagstaff on the list of the Meanest Cities in the U-S...a rating system by the national coalition for the homeless. Council woman kara kelty opposed the ordinance but says
something good came out of it...the creation of Flagstaff Shelter Services.
KARA KELTY) we see there's been a gap of 1 agency that's coordinating efforts to not only providing emergency services to the homeless but then to provide transitional services such as short term housing, job uh training and skill training.
TB) Flagstaff Shelter Services board members had hoped to have an emergency shelter operational by now. The group would like to use the former solar alternatives property by the underpass near downtown. The property is owned by the city but F-S-S still needs to obtain a conditional use permit and get approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Kelty says the facility is in a floodplain. That creates another obstacle.
Kelty) Because the city council recognized there would be a delay in going through the zoning process, the city council did give 25 thousand dollars to Flagstaff Shelter Services and emergency hotel vouchers so we could provide a safe location for homeless people to be out of the cold during this winter period.
TB) F-S-S volunteers say that money has helped about 70 people this month paying for more than 260 bed nights. If the location for Flagstaff Shelter Services meets city requirements...the earliest the facility could open would be March. Organizers say they plan to accept anyone needing a bed whether they're sober or not. Volunteer Jill Evans calls Flagstaff Shelter Services an ecumenical faith movement.
Jill Evans) a lot of the churches that have folks showing up on their doorstep every night, those churches now have a place to refer them. And those churches also have a place to support and not connected with any evangelism but just connected with an eccumenical movement of help and aid for the poor and needy in flagstaff.
(Bring up ambi of singing from memorial service.)
TB VO) As These voices from the memorial service sing of change... Flagstaff Shelter Services has a lot of work ahead....F-S-S has a long term goal of building a permanent facility near the Guidance Center where they would be able to offer even more services and different types of trainings designed to help people off the cold streets and into permanent housing. In Flagstaff for Arizona Public Radio, I'm Theresa Bierer.