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Help for The Homeless: Gila County Task Force Meets August 22

Mark Your Calendar: Gila County's Task Force on Homelessness meets
Aug. 22 at the Tonto Basin Chamber of Commerce from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Meetings are open, and all who wish to volunteer and participate are welcome. For details, questions or to be on the email list for fall and winter meetings
call Jake Gardner (928) 961-3312 or email:  jgardner@cbridges.com

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 Help for The Homeless: Gila County  
Task Force Meets August 22
People standing on corners, holding cardboard signs reading ‘Homeless – Please Help’. The scene is increasingly common over the past five years in Payson, Globe and throughout Gila County. Many yearn to help, local residents and agencies – but how? The simplest and most obvious, giving them cash, may be the least effective over the long run, explains Dorine Prine.
“The situations with people holding those cardboard signs vary drastically. By giving them money, you are ‘putting a band aid on the Grand Canyon’ – by offering temporary help with that cash or a meal bag from the nearest fast food restaurant. We need to provide assistance that offers the person a permanent solution to their issues so they can become self-sufficient. Far better is to donate to local charities, food banks and agencies. These all need funding to distribute the crucial services where they can have the largest and most lasting impact.” 
Prine and Malissa Buzan, her supervisor at Gila County Community Services, are just two of the most knowledgeable in

Gila County on the subject of homeless people and services that can help. As director of Gila County Community Services, nearly ten years ago, Buzan, Prine and teams of volunteers counted homeless residents of Payson and Globe-Miami during winter and summer – an effort the county has maintained for a decade. Neither Payson nor Globe have homeless shelters such as are available in Phoenix and Tucson; Gila County Community Services staff strive to arrange food and temporary housing for homeless people – along with helping arrange counseling for addictions or mental illness.
New this year is a once-a-month task force uniting elected officials with community leaders motivated to address homelessness in Gila County. Starting late last winter with meetings that drew Gila County Board of Supervisors Woody Cline and Tim Humphrey along with Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey, the task force continues with a core group led by Gila County Community Services Malissa Buzan, and includes Dorine Prine, Jake Gardner (Community Bridges), Karia Basta (Arizona Department of Housing), Barbara Kannegaard (Homeless Coalition of Cobre Valley), Jim Farris (Town of Payson Board), and representatives of numerous churches and local agencies.

Continuum of Care

The new Homeless Task Force marks a concerted effort to organize a Gila County Continuum of Care: a coalition of community partners who can provide services geared to lift individuals from homelessness. Having a Continuum of Care marks a new and focused strategy: local and coordinated entry points where homeless can be provided services, and where agencies can obtain data to track homelessness; data that’s essential to federal and state funding – and perhaps eventually providing shelter or seasonal cooling/warming stations to help homeless survive the most severe weather.

Here’s an example: Gila County Community Services staff lead dedicated and caring volunteers for the annual ‘point in time’ homeless count each January, and the more recent count in July that brings a summertime comparison.
“We have conducted the count for about 10 years,” said Prine. “Our winter count was approximately 18 for Gila County which marked an increase from 15 the previous winter. The summer count we recently completed totaled 44, also an increase from 32 the year before. So, it’s more than just anecdotal observation: our homeless population has been increasing over the years. The economy, cost of living, low-paying wages, high rent and other factors have caused people who were living from paycheck-to-paycheck to lose their homes. Multi-generational families living together have increased due to the high cost of living expenses and low-paying jobs. Every homeless person we meet during these seasonal surveys has a face and name. It could be someone you’ve known: a neighbor, a friend, relative -- or it could happen to you!”

Want to Get Involved?

The next Task Force meets again on Aug. 22 at the Tonto Basin Chamber of Commerce from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Meetings are open to the public, all who wish to volunteer are welcome. For details, questions or to be on the email list for fall and winter meetings call Jake Gardner (928) 961-3312 or email:  jgardner@cbridges.com.

Gila County Staff: "Helping For Many Years"
‘Local nonprofits such as Payson Assisting Displaced Students and our food banks in Payson and Pine-Strawberry do what they can to help the homeless, but this is a growing problem," said Woody Cline, District 3 Gila County Supervisor
"and while local communities can deal with symptoms, we saw the need for a county-wide effort to address the bigger picture, to identify our homeless, and try to provide services to improve their lives -- not just for today. I appreciate Gila County staff such as Malissa and Dorine who have been helping homeless people on a case-by-cases basis for many years, finding solutions."