Each month in Roaming the Rim, I will share a story about an interesting person, place or idea.

This first column focuses on the homeless population in Gila County and especially Rim Country.

For the past few months, I have attended meetings and heard stories from the homeless.

“Don’t be afraid of homeless people. We just don’t have a place to live,” said a homeless man.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines homelessness as: People who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, in an emergency shelter, or in transitional housing. It says nothing about folks with drug/alcohol problems or physical or mental issues. That’s because physical and mental health conditions can be both the cause and a result of homelessness.

Many of the homeless I have met do not struggle with addiction or a mental illness — they are simply out of a job and no longer able to pay rent.

One older couple, I’ll call them Lily and Wade, live in their van. They lost their home when Wade became ill, lost his job and they could no longer pay their mortgage. The couple has helped several people they found on the street.

In one case, a young couple had run out of money and was stranded in Payson. Lily and Wade allowed the couple to stay in their van temporarily.

“We didn’t want them to get into trouble,” said Lily.

The couple agreed to let Wade contact the young man’s father and he drove out from Alabama to take the couple home.

In Gila County, a Continuum of Care Homeless Task Force under the Arizona Department of Housing has been established. This is the first step in getting funds from the ADOH.

Gila County was the only county in Arizona that did not have funds to help the homeless because there was no structure to accept those funds. Now a mechanism exists.

A new program, 211 Triage Service, started locally in October. Call 211 and get a list of resources for shelter and other services available in Gila County, such as where to get help to pay utilities or rent — just put in your zip code. A live person is available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. At other times, hear a list of resources.

What we really need to solve homelessness in Gila County are homes. Under the “Housing First” approach, housing is the foundation for life improvements. We need to treat the homeless without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter.

Where do we provide affordable housing in Rim Country? Let’s be creative. We hope you don’t say, “Not in my neighborhood.”

Here in Payson, a group of interested persons, together with several church members, have formed a Payson Homeless Initiative. It also involves persons who are no longer homeless and those who are without shelter.

The plan is to provide a temporary warming center at night during the winter months. Mount Cross Lutheran Church has 30 beds available. Much work still needs to be done before the program launches. We need many volunteers. If you want to help, contact Rev. Neal Worthington at neal.unityofpayson@gmail.com.

I will be there, will you?

Contact me at mafasano1@gmail.com

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