The third annual Project Connect resource fair, hosted by the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition Sept. 25 at the Old Town Mission, provided homeless individuals access to services and highlighted an acute need in the Verde Valley.
“All the area service providers got together,” Cottonwood Mayor Timothy Elinski said. Elinksi acted as a greeter at the event, helping people sign in. “It was pretty intense .... There’s a lot of need in our area.”
According to Raena Avalon, acting chair of the VVHC since May, over 25 vendors, including a veterinarian, took part in offering services and resources to approximately 75 people.
“It was a lot bigger this year than last year,” Avalon said.
Though a success from the standpoint of connecting to the homeless, Avalon said there are major gaps in the services available to the temporarily and permanently homeless. Even well-intentioned and intricately planned efforts occasionally go awry.
Last year, the VVHC’s One Night, One Room program, which attempted to provide for those in need of a room during cold winter nights, foundered due to the negative impact on area hotels.
“It didn’t work out very well,” Avalon said. “A lot of the hotel rooms were abused. The owners weren’t very pleased.”
The difficulty of providing shelter, as well as health and job resources, to the homeless is ongoing for the VVHC, whose mission statement is to “identify and create real solutions to alleviating homelessness in the Verde Valley.”
Recently, the VVHC governing board voted to start the process to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, shifting its tradional advocacy role to one focused on palpable results through fundraising and grant application.
“In order to fulfill our mission, we needed to become a 501(c)(3),” Avalon said. “It’s drawn in a lot more people to our meetings.”
The VVHC is now dedicated to opening the Front Door, a “single-entry point for coordinated entry for the homeless seeking housing [where] clients are screened one time for all housing services in the area and referred to all services they are eligible for.”
According to Avalon, “rather than telling their stories a dozen times, [the homeless] can go to one place to have their information entered into an Homeless Management Information System ... which is available to providers with weekly case conferencing.”
The management system database will allow providers with access to the database to track a homeless individual’s care: If they move elsewhere, they can be identified, letting providers know what services were provided previously and what services may be necessary.
“We’re the only area without it in our county,” Avalon said. “We need to get them past the point of wanting and to the point of doing, like taking the next right step to getting housing. They really need case management in order to progress.”
Avalon said that while nighttime lodging is important, providing a drop-in center for services, such as computer and internet access, is ultimately more important to empowering the homeless.
In January, the Arizona Department of Housing generated the “2017 Balance of State Continuum of Care Sheltered and Unsheltered Point In Time Report,” reporting that 167 homeless people had been identified in Yavapai County. Of those, 77 percent of the unsheltered were located in the Verde Valley.
For more information on the VVHC, search “Verde Valley Homeless Coalition” on Facebook.