The fear of homelessness alone can cause anxiety and depression. This summer I went to food banks in Gila County as a volunteer to assist in the “Point of Contact” count of the homeless. The staff of one of the facilities sent a woman over to me. She slowly came and sat next to me.

Softly, she began to share her story. “I’m not here for food. I’m here for information. I’m afraid I might become homeless if I can’t find help paying my rent. I had surgery for breast cancer and I’m still paying the hospital bills. My insurance didn’t cover it all. I have not been able to work for several months because of the effects of the chemo. What if I can’t find a way to pay my rent? Where will I go? What will I do?” We talked for awhile and I encouraged her to speak to the staff at the Community Action Program.

Often individuals with medical bills find themselves on the brink of homelessness. This fear can affect their treatment because anxiety weakens the immune system. They can no longer focus on their healing.

What if here in Gila County we had assistance with services to help folks like this woman who have been stable and independent all their lives, but now, because of medical bills, find themselves on the brink of homelessness?

I met a couple who are living in the forest. The man said, “I broke my leg and then got an infection and am on crutches and can’t work.”

They came to the food bank for food for the week. The injury did not occur on the job so he did not have worker’s compensation. His insurance covered some of the medical bills, but the infection got worse. The medical bills piled up and he could no longer afford to pay the insurance premiums, or the rent on their apartment. They still had their car. “We decided to camp out to save money,” he said. They drove up from Phoenix to get out of the heat while he heals. He plans to get back on his feet when he can. They were sure this was temporary for them. Again, they needed information on local resources.

You may have heard that Gila County is one of the few counties in Arizona that gets little help with programs for the homeless because it has not applied for funding under HUD’s Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing: Continuum of Care Program. Now the county has established a Homeless Task Force with plans to apply for funding.

So far, the group has organized an unofficial “Point of Contact” count this summer and have more data. They have a Governance Charter required by HUD and are moving forward. The Arizona Department of Housing (ADOH) will provide technical and other support for the Gila County Homeless Task Force.

It’s a start, but it will not happen right away. This winter, the community may be asked to assist with a temporary housing plan and it may be near where you live. Think long and hard before you object to having it in “your neighborhood.” Remember many folks are one step away from homelessness.

If you are in the situation where you are fearful of being homeless, ask for help early. Some people are embarrassed to ask for help until it’s too late. Don’t be. There are agencies and places that can offer you help.

Start with the Community Action Program in Payson, 928-474-7192; and Globe, 928-426-7631.

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