/ Modified jul 17, 2013 11:10 a.m.

Local Efforts Offer Help, Give Hope to Homeless

Three organizations working to fill the poverty gap.


Three local organizations provide services for those who can't afford everything it takes to make ends meet.

The people they serve in Pima County make up 35 percent of the state's homeless population, according to a 2012 report on Homelessness from The Arizona Department of Economic Security.

That figure is a significant increase from 2011.

The report said one of every 100 residents in Pima County have experienced homelessness. That’s twice the national average, and represents the highest concentration of homelessness in the state.

Access to Hygiene, Telephone, Mail

The Primavera Foundation is one of the organizations which has seen its numbers increase, said Brad Thayer, program manager of Primavera Foundation's Homes Intervention and Prevention, or HIP.

“We have seen a change in the population, a lot more families," Thayer said. "We were used to 100 per day, and now we’re pushing that to 300 some days."

Primavera focuses on people who are homeless, or on the verge of it, he said. The program provides a place where people can come in from the streets and get general resources, help and guidance.

After checking in, they can pick up hygiene products, over-the-counter medications or food, or speak with an on-site resource specialist to discuss everything from shelters to family reunification.

HIP provides an environment where people can decompress and feel safe, Thayer said.

"They can sit here...and just relax. I think that’s the most important thing," he said. “It can range from male, female, transgender, young, old, families, single, the entire gamut."

Simon, who is 60 years old and homeless, was there to use the phone. He was trying to arrange a medical appointment.

After hanging up the phone, he said, "I needed that. I’ve never really been a person to be sick. I’ve never known sickness, other than something I’ve created for myself. I’m living on the streets, and hoping that things change for the better. But, things don’t always go as you want, man.”

Along with a series of recent physical ailments, Simon said he’s dealing with mental health issues.

“They’ve diagnosed me with bi-polar (disorder)...so I have to deal with that too," he said. "I have to get medications."

The drop-in center at Primavera offers a wide-variety of helpful resources, he said.

“When I come I can ask for assistance, and they’ll direct me on the right path," Simon said. "If they don’t have it here, they’ll have access to it."

HIP also offers a mailing address for program users to receive mail, everything from medical bills to family, handwritten notes, Thayer said.

HIP responds to a variety of specific needs, such as legal aid and toiletries.

“We always sit with each individual who walks in that door, one on one," Thayer said. " They get to tell us about (themselves), and we get to tell them about (ourselves), and what we can do to...work together. It’s a facility that’s very much needed, and appreciated by people who are in this situation."

Climate Control

Tucson’s homeless must also grapple with the heat in southern Arizona, when 100-plus-degree temperatures are common in the summer. On July 9, Tucson tied the 39-day record for consecutive 100-degree days.

The St. Francis Cooling Center offers some comfort and relief for those who otherwise spend their days, and nights, outside. It is located at the Central City Assembly of God, 939 S. 10th Ave.

"Anyone is welcome to come in, and treated with hospitality...dignity," said Carl Zawatski, co-coordinator of the St. Francis Cooling Center. "(We give them) some cold water, a nice lunch, a cot to lay down on, get refreshed, get off the street...just relax."

During the summer months, the cooling center is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from noon to 4:30 p.m.

Johnny, who is in his 60s, said he appreciates the break from the heat.

“We look forward to noon everyday to come in here and relax for four hours," he said. "We’re safe, we’re cool and can sleep knowing that nothing is going to hurt us here."

Along with the need for food, water and shelter, Johnny said the heat and other weather related factors are a constant challenge.

“The heat really is something that wears you down, because it is...constantly there, beating down on you, beating on your back, your head, your body,” Johnny said.

Dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke are among the many health risks that Tucson’s homeless must face each day.

“If you aren’t strong enough, you’re going to get a stroke...you're going to lose weight," Johnny said. "You’re sweating, and if you’re walking, the clothes will stick to your body because it’s so damn hot.”

The number of homeless people who visit the cooling center increased from previous years. On a hot summer day, they can have as many as 80 visitors, Zawatski said.

Zawatski relates and understands where these men and women have been, and what they are going through. He's a recovering alcoholic, and was homeless for a several years.

“I wound up getting off the streets," Zawatski said. "I’ll never forget the people who helped me, and the grace that was given to me to get off the streets. It's not a happy place...(and) some twist in life could (bring you) right here."

Finding Food

Searching for food is a main part of the daily routine for the homeless.

On Mondays and Fridays, Southside Presbyterian Church, 317 W. 23rd St., offers morning meals to the local homeless.

“We’re funded by all (the) volunteer offerings that go through the church," said Mary Ellen Kennon, a volunteer at the church. "Forty to 60 percent of the population that we have working with are homeless...we accept them regardless of what problems they might have. Some of them have (have received help) and...they want to give back."

Doug Larson, also a volunteer, said Southside Presbyterian has a unique approach.

“The homeless are empowered to run this program, and we facilitate their needs,” Larson said. “We help anybody and everybody we can in every way that we can."

The organization will only turn someone away if the person is extremely violent or intoxicated, he said.

Larson reflected on what it must be like for a person to be without a home.

“...It’s a rough life," he said. "(In this program)...they’re secure, they know they’re not going to be abused, they know they’re being cared for."

Larson had a theory for the increase in the percentage of homeless population.

“We see growth because of the way the economy is right now," he said. "There are no jobs out there, people don’t have money. We have a mixture of people: (completely) homeless, and people who just lost their jobs, don’t have money. We have migrants who come from Mexico."

Southside Presbyterian serves about 300 people each week, and the number rises at the end of each month to about 400.

For a more expanded story on each of these services, visit Homeless Intervention and Prevention Program; The St. Francis Cooling Center; Southside Presbyterian Church.

This story is part of Arizona Public Media's week-long series on poverty.

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