Shelter for homeless faces funds shortfall

By Christina Leonard

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 25, 2002

PHOENIX - Officials are struggling to secure enough money to keep this year's winter overflow shelter program open through March 31, the usual closing date.

Phoenix's Watkins emergency shelter opens its doors today and has only enough funding to shelter people through January, an alarming prospect given the dismal economic outlook, officials say.

"Everyone is saying their shelters are full, and their funding isn't coming in like they're used to," said Riann Balch, Phoenix homeless programs coordinator.

Officials estimate the county's homeless population hovers between 11,000 and 14,000. Phoenix officials say Valley organizations can house about two-thirds of that population.

"We have become full quicker and have been turning people away," said Mark Holleran, the chief executive officer of Central Arizona Shelter Services, which operates a 400-bed facility in Phoenix. "We're anticipating they're (overflow shelter) going to have a lot more business than they have in previous years."

Outreach workers are reporting disturbing trends: They're not only watching the overall homeless population climb, but the number of first-time homeless is growing as well, said Charlene Moran Flaherty, a homeless planner who works with the Continuum of Care, a Maricopa Association of Governments group.

"It's very much correlated to the economic conditions," she said. "It's people who might have been one paycheck, or two paychecks, away from homelessness."

"It's the minimum-wage earners, seasonal workers, day-labor workers. We're really talking about the working poor."

For the past 15 years, Phoenix has operated the winter overflow shelter program to handle those turned away from shelters during cold and inclement weather. The United Methodist Outreach Ministries, which operates the facility under contract with Phoenix, served about 2,700 people last year at a cost of about $400,000, according to a Phoenix memo.

But they're short on funds this year and have secured only about $260,000, said Moises Gallegos, Phoenix's deputy human service director.

"We always say we may have to close early, but this year, it is even more so," he added. "Nothing is for certain, especially right now."

The state is facing a $1 billion deficit next fiscal year, and Holleran said social service agencies fear the impact.

The Watkins emergency shelter, 1120 W. Watkins St., houses 350 single men, 40 single women and 10 families with children seven days a week. The outreach ministry provides transportation, and those in need receive a hot meal, shower and bed.

Staff members of the Valley's homeless shelters refer people to the shelter. Walk-ins are not permitted.

contact (800)799-7739 for staying at the homeless shelter

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