Cottonwood City Council has moved forward with providing a temporary refuge for the homeless on freezing nights by waiving the city’s adopted International Fire Code requirement for automatic sprinklers for certain facilities.The ordinance, which was adopted as an emergency measure, was passed unanimously on Tuesday, Jan. 16, and is effective immediately.
The issue came up after the city’s One Person One Night project — a program that was meant to provide a warm place for the homeless to sleep during cold nights — ended after two years, said Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski.
The city, as well as the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition, has since been trying to come up alternatives to spare those without a warm bed a night in the freezing cold.
“I think it’s a very reasonable solution ensuring we can shelter those most vulnerable during the freezing winter months,” Elinski said.
YES The Arc offered to open its doors as a temporary shelter on such nights, but the facility did not have an automatic sprinkler system, which was a requirement under city code for buildings that change use to residential.
The building is still working to get a sprinkler system installed, but the ordinance now waives that requirement so the facility can be used as shelter immediately.
“The spirit of that code is that we protect the health and safety of those occupants,” Elinski said. “I don’t think we are veering from the spirit of that code in that there is also a very real danger to folks who sleep outdoors when the temperature is below 35 degrees through exposure and other winter-related occurrences.”
In lieu of a sprinkler system, a fire watch and training will be provided to those running the temporary shelter.
“We feel those [requirements] provide the best solution in short of a sprinkler system,” said Cottonwood Fire Chief Mike Kuykendall.
The risk is low, said VVHC acting chairwoman Raena Avalon during a presentation to the council showing the layout of what the temporary shelter would look like and the safety measures that will be taken to ensure fire safety.
“If we have two people awake all night and three exits readily available, we hope that will be safe,” she said. “It just makes sense to have a provision for the homeless to get out of the cold.”
Avalon reiterated that VVHC has been working with the fire chief to discuss training and recommendations for safety.
Both VVHC and YES The Arc will have liability insurance, Avalon said.
“We’ve really covered our bases,” she said. “The risk of there being a fire breaking out in the midst of this building and somebody dying is a lot less than [someone] freezing on the streets.”
To learn more about the VVHC and ways to volunteer, visit verdevalleyhomelesscoalition.org or call 202-1176.
Kelcie Grega can be reached at 634-8551, or email firstname.lastname@example.org