Havasu’s homeless turn to nonprofits for food, resources

December 2, 2018

Without a homeless shelter in Lake Havasu City, the local transient population often turns to local nonprofits to find food, clothes, shower facilities and even shelter.

Veterans United Arizona, a local group that connects veterans to resources, helps homeless by providing food and water, transporting them to medical appointments, picking up prescriptions for them and sometimes providing a home for people as they look for a job and get back on their feet.

Finding some housing to help homeless

Larry Woodrum, a lead volunteer with Veterans United, said volunteers will rent homes from local homeowners at a reduced rate and agree to manage and maintain the property. The group then finds families or couples who need a home and provides them a place to live for three to six months. They find furniture for the homes as well, allowing the residents to take the furniture with them when they find a job and get their own place.

The organization currently rents a three-bedroom home and a two-bedroom home. They set rules for the residents – no drugs, no alcohol, they have to actively be searching for jobs.

Woodrum said the organization offers people a way out of homelessness and if people embrace it, the organization supports them as much as they can.

“We give them a hand up,” he said. “We don’t give them handouts.”

Once a person starts working they can start to help pay part of the rent or utilities, which also helps them transition back into civilian life, Woodrum said.

Woodrum said most homeless people don’t want to be homeless. They became homeless because of life circumstances.

“Something caused them to go that direction,” he said. “We try to find the root of that and try to fix it with them.”

A lot of the expenses to help homeless come out of their own pocket, Woodrum said. Community members and local businesses also provide both monetary and in kind donations.

“It’s hard to do when you’re just one or two organizations out here trying to do it,” Woodrum said. “We need the backing and the support of everyone.”

Local charities offer many resources

Many other religious and charitable organizations offer help for homeless in the community. Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church Community Soup Kitchen offers warm meals for people in need. The Salvation Army also provides a bag lunch as well. Abundant Grace Church offers people showers and has a food pantry. The Havasu Community Health Foundation food bank, which opened almost three months ago, also offers food and clothing to those in need.

St. Vincent de Paul’s food bank offers emergency food boxes for people. Families who receive a food box each month have to apply for the program, providing an address and proof of income to show their income is low enough that they need the help. Sarah Viles, general manager of St. Vincent de Paul, said a homeless person who needs food doesn’t need to provide the same information. Once they explain their situation, they can receive food.

St. Vincent de Paul also offers clothing, sleeping bags or other needs for homeless people. She said between five and 10 people a week on average go to the organization asking for donations.

A statewide annual report from the Arizona Department of Economic Security in 2017 showed a decrease of more that 3,000 homeless from 2016 to 2017. From 2017 to 2018, the population seemingly grew again with almost 700 more homeless counted in Maricopa county and 82 more in Mohave County. The number of homeless decreased by almost 200 people from 2017 to 2018 in Pima County, according to point-in-time surveys conducted every January.

Conducted on behalf of the Arizona Balance of State Continuum of Care, survey numbers showed 98 people were unsheltered in Havasu the night of January 23 while 40 people reported being unsheltered in 2017. Countywide, the number of unsheltered people increased from 199 to 281. The state will again conduct its annual survey in 52 days.

City defers to nonprofits, churches to help

City officials have deferred responsibility of providing a homeless shelter to nonprofits and religious organizations, saying they support efforts to help but cannot use taxpayer money to provide resources for the homeless.

In September, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled cities in the Western states cannot prosecute homeless people for sleeping in public places if they have no access to shelter because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and, therefore, is unconstitutional.

City officials in September said they were following the ruling and its developments closely. Lake Havasu City does not have a homeless shelter and bans all camping within city limits, except in designated areas with proper licensing.

Jess Knudson, city manager, said the ordinance is in place because the city doesn’t want people sleeping in parks.

“We want to make sure that those facilities are open and available for the residents and obviously safe for children and all of our residents,” Knudson said.

He said though every circumstance is different, police officers enforce the ordinance in order to maintain those areas safe. Asked where homeless are to go if they’re kicked out of a park or a public place, Knudson shrugged.

“We reach out and want individuals to, I reach out personally and want individuals to find the resources that are out there or do what they can to find those resources,” he said. “But it’s simply not the role of the city.”

Mayor Cal Sheehy said the ordinance is in place to protect private property owners and business owners. He said the court ruling will not lead to a sudden change in the city’s director to enforce the ordinance or to use taxpayer funds to provide resources for homeless people.

Frankie Lyons, president of Veterans United Arizona, said with the city not wanting to be involved, she would like local churches and nonprofits to work together as a hub and provide shelter.

“I would like to see all the churches get together, put their money in a place and build an apartment complex that would house the homeless people for 90 days to 120 days to get them back into their own private housing,” Lyons said.

Viles agreed that the city could use a homeless shelter, but said she’s not sure who would be responsible for opening a shelter. She said there’s only so much local charities can do financially to help.

“I think if a person is homeless and they’re trying to find a job they have no means to shower or to make themselves be presentable to find a job and a shelter would offer those resources for them.” Viles said. “Then they’ll never be able to put one foot in front of the other. So a shelter would definitely help the people take a step forward.”

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