As you tuck yourself into your cozy, warm home this winter season think of the folks who are out in the rain, snow, wind and cold. There are people in Gila County who are without shelter for many reasons, but there is hope. For the past two years the Gila County Homeless Task Force has been meeting with over a dozen agency folks, interested citizens and volunteers. Their work has substance and changes have come. Homeless people have safe places to live because Gila County has an active entity called the Balance of Continuum of Care, it is now eligible for monies from the Department of Housing. This is completed through the Homeless Task Force under the leadership of Dorine Prine, program administrator for the Community Action Program.
The task force has a case management system working with several agencies that identify the homeless and complete an assessment as to their needs, especially housing needs, the HMIS — Homeless Management Information System — is a federal database.
“These programs raise people up to be more self-sufficient. They look at where is the most need, what are the barriers,” Prine said.
Each individual is then helped to overcome the problems that have led to their homelessness.
One of the agencies, Community Bridges, Inc. received a grant from the Department of Housing to find permanent housing for the homeless. They have already housed eight people and are working to house more.
One person who has been working with homeless populations for awhile is Tim Gonzalez. He started volunteering with the Homeless Coalition of Cobre Valley.
“I have experienced homelessness and saw a sign at a church for the Homeless Coalition of Cobre Valley and started volunteering with this group,” he said.
Gonzalez worked at Horizon Health and Wellness with people with mental health issues to find them shelter.
“Some with drug abuse issues and mental health issues have been homeless for so long they don’t know how to function anymore in a normal setting,” he said.
In the public the homeless often feel like they are being discriminated against because they are homeless.
“They still got to have their dignity,” Gonzalez said.
With the support of Peer Navigators these folks have someone to help them reestablish themselves in society. In the housing programs when an individual has been identified the process involves exploring what services the individual needs. It’s one person at a time and it’s an intensive process working with each individual.
An example of a success story demonstrates the process with one individual discharged from the hospital, homeless. He was helped to first find a temporary place to live at a motel with the help of CAP (the Community Action Program). Then, a volunteer brought him to a thrift shop to find some shoes and clothing. The volunteer also showed him how to access a food bank. Through the local workforce program he was evaluated for a job. Months later he has a job, an apartment and is paying his own rent. He felt secure enough to seek needed medical care for a facial disfigurement that improved his appearance and increased his confidence.
The community needs to know that the individuals are not just provided with a place to live, but given supportive services. Any landlord willing to take a chance with this program needs to know there is backing to provide emotional, social and financial help to the individual. The more people off the streets in permanent housing, gaining the ability to work and support themselves, the more people who will be independent citizens.