By month’s end, Payson should have a homeless warming center to provide respite and temporary shelter for the homeless living in the woods around town.
Mount Cross Lutheran Church has 30 beds available along with showers, bathrooms and a warming kitchen available at its retreat center. A dozen other churches have joined forces along with the food banks and a host of volunteers to help relieve the suffering of Rim Country’s homeless.
Statistics show most of the homeless are men — many of them veterans with PTSD or other mental health issues. But Payson’s homeless also include women and families.
Dave Golembewski often goes out into the woods to find these homeless. He brings hot dogs to roast and listens to their stories.
He waded out through the snow after a recent snowstorm and found a man staying in a tent.
“It’s not the snow that’s so bad, it’s the rain,” he said.
He hoped the community would come together to find some solution to bring the homeless in from the elements during the harsh winter nights.
It’s Rim Country residents who have fueled the all-volunteer Payson Homeless Initiative, which started meeting about a month ago.
With support of Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey, the group is determined to make sure the shadowy group of people trying to survive in the woods as temperatures drop into the 20s can get through the winter.
“The word is getting out to those that want to make a difference — not only for the homeless, but for the community at large,” said Neal Worthington, leader of the initiative and pastor of Unity. “We will commit to having a warming station by the end of December.”
The warming center will provide meals, a bed, shower, and a way to launder clothes.
After an overnight visit, the homeless must leave the shelter during the day.
While the group is eager to get the center open, details like insurance and setting up a bank account have delayed the project.
The group has turned to other homeless organizations for advice and ideas.
Skyler Brice, who has taken on publicity for the initiative, has already met with the administration of Flagstaff Shelter Services.
“They are a very grassroots organization that started with a center,” said Brice. “They now have a two-story building with 200 beds — and another 140 beds scattered around town.
The Flagstaff Shelter Services group offered encouragement.
“They see it is possible to get up and running in a month,” said Brice.
Flagstaff churches got behind the outreach effort immediately, but it took a lot of effort to get the city to support a homeless shelter.
Morrissey has strongly supported the program. Brice praised the town’s support.
“We have most of the battle won with the support of our mayor,” said Brice.
Several volunteers have offered to head up committees to organize food, laundry, bedding and toiletry donations. Volunteers already have a storage unit to collect donations.
“We are putting together kindness kits with toiletries, etc., but the items to put together those kits are needed,” said Worthington.
Besides donations, they need volunteers.
“We are making a roster of volunteers. Of primary importance is monitors for the shelter, and yes, we will have two shifts daily, composed of a man and a woman for each shift. Thus four monitors per day times 30 days in a month. The need will be great,” said Worthington.
He hopes other churches might take on certain days of the month — offering volunteers for the day.
Brice said the group plans on “two shifts of volunteer security, as well as those who help with intake and meal services.”
The intake process will be simple, said Brice.
“We have support for volunteer police, as well as local nurses who have stepped up to help with intake,” he said.
The group will provide volunteer training.
“All who stay at the center will be vetted and security is our priority,” said Worthington.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, Worthington says, adding they welcome any support.
“We will have a great variety of needs. We do need skills and willingness more than anything else. We will find a place to fit people in that meets what they are able to offer,” he said.
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