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COUNTING THE HARD TO COUNT
Volunteers make sure Flagstaff's homeless get counted
Unsheltered homeless stick it out in cold

By 2 a.m. Wednesday, the temperature had slipped to a frigid 6 degrees in Flagstaff. On that night, Jamie Cly and Avery Gonnie, the man she calls “her other half,” were sleeping outside behind a building that used to house a restaurant, just off Milton Road.

They dress in warm clothes, layer their sleeping bags on top of them and try to sleep close to keep each other warm, Cly said.

Without a tent or sleeping pad, they sleep on the cold, hard concrete.

"We just try to keep our minds off of it,” she said.

Sometimes her mother will buy them a hotel room for a night, but for the most part they have been homeless, mostly sleeping outside, for about the past two years, Cly said.

She was one of hundreds in Coconino County who were surveyed this week as part of an annual Point in Time count. The goal is to document the number of people experiencing homelessness who were unsheltered at a single point in time — in this case Tuesday night. The same counts are happening across the state and the country as well.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Avery Gonnie, second from left, and his partner Jamie Cly, third from left are interviewed by Stephanie Hall, left, and Danna Durney, right, about where they spent the night of Jan. 23 for the annual countywide Point in Time Housing Survey. The two said they slept outside that night, huddled under sleeping bags as the temperature dipped to a low of 6 degrees. 

The term “unsheltered” covers a range of situations, from people who were camping in the forest outside of town, sleeping in their car, staying in a trailer or camper without water and electricity, or spending the night outside or in an abandoned or substandard building not meant for regular sleeping, said Leah Bloom, who works for the city of Flagstaff and is the county lead for the Point in Time count.

The data collection is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and helps determine funding for homeless services in Coconino County. It’s also used by local organizations to shape program development, apply for funding and gain a better picture of what kinds of people are experiencing housing crisis, said Ross Altenbaugh, executive director of Flagstaff Shelter Services.

“It is the piece of information that helps us make real decisions about our community and the community resources that we do have," Altenbaugh said.

Beginning Tuesday night, groups of volunteers fanned out across Flagstaff and other communities in Coconino County, from Fredonia to Page, Williams to Tuba City. They are going to places like soup kitchens, shelters and other community centers in search of people who spent Tuesday night without an adequate place to sleep. Other volunteers are scouting out popular camping spots outside of town in places as far away as Happy Jack, Bloom said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Avery Gonnie, right, answers survey questions during the 2018 National Street and Shelter Point in Time Count of the homeless Thursday morning at the East Flagstaff Library. He was one of hundreds in Coconino County who were surveyed this week as part of the annual count of those who were unsheltered the night of Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Beyond asking people about Tuesday night, the eight-page Point in Time Housing Survey includes questions about the person’s current living situation, history of homelessness, medical and economic condition and household unit. People are also given information about local resources and asked for a contact number or email so local agencies can get in touch about other services available to them.

GETTING COUNTED

On one Thursday morning shift, volunteer surveyors Stephanie Hall, Tom Isakson and Danna Durney set up shop at a table at the East Flagstaff Public Library. Cly and Gonnie were among the first to approach the volunteers and agree to be surveyed.

People have generally been pretty open to participating in the survey, Isakson said.

“People wanted their constituency to be counted,” he said.

Other groups of volunteers were in mobile units that drove around Flagstaff looking for people to survey. One trio spent several hours on Thursday scouting around Flagstaff’s east side, checking places like the Safeway and the big box stores near the Flagstaff Mall. A chilly wind had picked up by the time they found three men sleeping under a tree behind an Office Max. Two of the men agreed to take the survey.

“What we’ve got is what we sleep with,” said one of the men, who didn’t want to give his name.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Rebecca Snowden, right, is interviewed by Stephanie Hall, left, at the East Flagstaff branch of the public library Thursday morning during the 2018 National Street and Shelter Point in Time Count. The goal of the count is to document the number of people experiencing homelessness who were unsheltered at a single point in time — in this case the night of Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Snowden spent that night at the Flagstaff Shelter Services homeless shelter. She is trying to get to her daughter in Springfield, Missouri.

In response to the question about where he slept Tuesday night, the other man answered only that he “froze.”

They were both grateful for the Better Bucks, all-day bus pass and toiletries that survey participants receive when they finish.

Tatum Covey, who was part of the mobile unit, also works with Catholic Charities and has been surveying people who come to the nonprofit’s office in search of services and resources. Most people she spoke with are camping or sleeping in their cars, Covey said.

OVERFLOW CAPACITY

While there are still people who spend the night outside in and around Flagstaff, it’s not for lack of capacity at emergency shelters. On Tuesday night, Flagstaff Shelter Services had room for 15 more people, and Northland Family Help Center, which runs a domestic violence shelter and a youth shelter, had 11 beds available, those organizations said.

To ensure Flagstaff never faces a lack of shelter capacity during the winter months, Flagstaff Shelter Services partners with local churches that make their spaces available as overflow shelters for a week at a time, Altenbaugh said. Since the partnership began in 2014, the shelter hasn’t had to turn anyone away due to lack of space, she said.

Still, there are people who avoid the shelter for a variety of reasons, from mental conditions to a resistance to sleeping with dozens of other people, Bloom said. Cly is one of them, saying she doesn’t like sleeping at the shelter because it’s stuffy and too loud. Plus it smells like cigarette smoke, she said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Avery Gonnie, right, is interviewed by Stephanie Hall, left, during the 2018 National Street and Shelter Point in Time survey of the homeless Thursday morning at the East Flagstaff branch of the public library. Gonnie spent the night of Jan. 23 sleeping with his girlfriend behind a brick wall just off Milton Road.

For those people, Bloom encouraged them to still come to Flagstaff's emergency shelters or its Front Door coordinated entry program so agencies can try to find another place for them to go and not risk an exposure death.

EYE OPENER

The Arizona Department of Housing will compile the point in time survey data collected from Arizona counties, then deliver county-specific reports in June, Bloom said.

While that final data serves an important purpose, the surveying itself is a valuable experience as well, allowing volunteers to connect with people in their community who are experiencing homelessness, Bloom said.

“It’s an eye opener that just a few unfortunate events can put somebody in homelessness,” she said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Rebecca Snowden, holds a packet of toiletries and a Better Bucks booklet at the East Flagstaff branch of the public library Thursday morning after completing a survey for the 2018 National Street and Shelter Point in Time Count. The national survey picks a single point in time and documents the number of people experiencing homelessness who were unsheltered that night. 

That was the case for Rebecca Snowden, who lost her house while getting out of an abusive relationship in Kentucky, lost her job after getting injured at work and then unintentionally ended up in Arizona even though she was trying to get back to her children in Missouri. She had arrived in Flagstaff four days ago and was doing all she could to find money for a bus ticket to Springfield while staying at the shelter in the meantime. 

"Everybody's situation is different,” she said after completing the survey at the East Flagstaff Library. “It doesn't mean that one is better than the other or vice versa."


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Rapid 'rehousing' grants getting homeless out of shelters

Michael Uribe, 36, struggled with drugs and alcohol for years. His struggle landed him in prison, convicted of multiple felonies, including armed robbery, and eventually, a homeless shelter in Phoenix. He did well for a while, even got a job, but he ended up descending into the world of drugs again.

Phoenix police picked him up for an old arrest warrant out of his hometown of Flagstaff. He was returned to Flagstaff to face the consequences. After his release from jail, he lived in his car and would take a shower at the Flagstaff Shelter Services emergency shelter. He continued to struggle with alcohol and drugs.

“But then I stopped,” he said. “I knew I had to make a change.”

He has a job at the shelter, and, more importantly, he has his own home with the help of a housing program at the shelter.

The housing program at FSS is now a year old. Nearly 100 people experiencing homelessness have been housed by the program, said Ross Altenbaugh, executive director of FSS. And 85 percent of them are still living in homes instead of the emergency shelter.

“We always wanted to be a ‘housing’ agency,” said Altenbaugh, who took over the reins at the emergency shelter a little more than three years ago.

In Altenbaugh’s office at the shelter, a white board hangs on the wall near her desk. More than 50 names occupy the white space. Each arrived at the shelter experiencing homelessness. All were moved into a home as part of the shelter’s housing program.

“There’s someone up there who’s been homeless as long as I’ve been alive,” Altenbaugh said. “We’re talking cumulatively more than a century of homelessness on that board.”

Not all of them make it. Some go back into the system and return to the emergency shelter. They can’t maintain their housing.

“It doesn’t work for everybody, unfortunately, but it sure works better than some of the alternatives for people,” Altenbaugh said. “People do better in housing than in shelter. Putting an emphasis on housing is key.”

The program receives rapid rehousing funding from the Arizona Department of Housing and the Department of Economic Security, about $140,000, which equates to about $3,400 of assistance per individual, per year.

“It’s the No. 1 thing that is actually moving the needle,” Altenbaugh said.

The program is based on a “Housing First” model, which works on the philosophy that to get people experiencing homelessness stable, they need to have a stable living environment. The research in the field has shown that the model is less expensive and more successful at ending a person’s homeless “crisis,” Altenbaugh said. The program took more than three years to get off the ground because FSS, which went from a seasonally open shelter to being open every day of the year, needed to reorganize and hire staff trained in providing case management to help the clients find the services they need to become stable in a housing scenario.

Some of the clients need very little help from the subsidies, Altenbaugh said. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of helping with a deposit, a month’s rent, and they stabilize. Other clients, with greater mental or physical challenges, require more help.

Altenbaugh added that several properties in the city have agreed to help with the program.

“A lot of it is people willing to take a chance and willing to do it because it’s a program of empowerment,” Altenbaugh said.

The clients sign their own leases, and case managers identify “barriers” that make staying housed a challenge. Some need to be directed to mental health services at The Guidance Center or Southwest Behavioral & Health Services. Some need help finding and keeping jobs. Some simply need help with transportation. It depends on the individual, Altenbaugh said.

The emergency shelter has about 100 beds for adult men and women and offers showers, supplies, meals and referrals to a host of other services in the city. More than 155 people come through the doors of the shelter every day.

Lauren Lawry is Uribe’s case manager. She said that Uribe lives with two other men in his new apartment. There are a few other “dorm-style” apartment arrangements in Flagstaff for clients of the shelter. Most housed clients have other roommates, but some are housed by themselves. Each client is set up in a scenario that will help them become financially stable.

Of being in his own home that has a kitchen to cook his own food, Uribe said, “It’s strange. It feels good because I’m on my own now.”

He added that it’s been a slow process of getting used to opening his own door and falling to sleep in his own bed. Later, he will head off to work at the shelter, where he gives the clients the supplies they need, makes coffee for them, directs them to people who will get them connected with other services in the city. He likes the work.

“I used to live there,” he said. “I want to help.”

He started off as a volunteer for the shelter at first.

“They gave me a chance, and I took it,” Uribe said.


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IMMIGRATION
Trump turns again on immigration; allies bash 'Amnesty Don'

NEW YORK (AP) — Fearing betrayal on a signature campaign issue, President Donald Trump's loyalists are lashing out against his proposal to create a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million "Dreamer" immigrants.

Trump-aligned candidates from Nevada and Virginia rejected the notion outright. A loyal media ally, Breitbart News, attacked him as "Amnesty Don." And outside groups that cheered the hardline rhetoric that dominated Trump's campaign warned of fierce backlash against the president's party in November's midterm elections.

"There's a real potential for disaster," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the far-right Center for Immigration Studies. "The president hasn't sold out his voters yet. But I think it's important that his supporters are making clear to him that they're keeping an eye on him."

The public scolding is aimed at a president who has changed course under pressure before. It presents Trump with a significant test on an issue that dominated his outsider candidacy and inspired working-class voters who propelled his rise. Now, barely a year into his presidency, Trump can bend either to the will of his fiery base or to the pressure to govern and compromise.

His leadership may determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants and whether his party can improve its standing among surging numbers of Hispanic voters.

"There's a Trump movement. And It's not necessarily about Donald Trump," said Corey Stewart, a Republican Senate candidate in Virginia and a vocal Trump ally. "It's about the things that Donald Trump campaigned and stood for during his campaign. Ultimately, every elected leader needs to stay true to the message that they ran on, otherwise people will leave them."

The passionate response underscores the Republican Party's dilemma on immigration under Trump.

Much of the country, including independents and moderate Republicans, favor protections for thousands of young people brought to the country as children illegally and raised here through no fault of their own. But a vocal conservative faction emboldened by Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric will never accept anything viewed as "amnesty." And many view legal protection for these young immigrants as just that.

Trump's proposal includes billions for border security and significant changes to legal immigration long sought by hard-liners. Several Democrats and immigration activists rejected it outright. But his supporters' focus on "amnesty" for Dreamers highlights how dug in the base is and how little room Trump has to maneuver.

The president told journalists this week he favors a pathway to citizenship for those immigrants, embracing a notion he once specifically rejected. Legal protection for roughly 700,000 immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, has emerged as a driving priority for Democrats, who forced a government shutdown over this issue last week. The businessman president appears to have set out to cut a deal.

"It is concerning why anyone would attempt to repeat history by granting amnesty," said Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is mulling a primary challenge against Republican Sen. Roger Wicker. McDaniel likened the Trump proposal to the "amnesty" granted in 1986 immigration overhaul backed by President Ronald Reagan.

Such a policy, McDaniel said, would harm American workers and "invite more illegals," while emboldening liberals in future debates. Making a deal now would ensure that a future Congress will be "held hostage by open border advocates."

In Virginia, Stewart agreed with McDaniel that "any amnesty, including an extension of DACA," would lead draw millions of new immigrants into the country illegally. "I'm not happy about it," he said.

Brian Kemp, a leading Republican candidate for Georgia governor, said Republicans must use their Washington monopoly to end DACA, which he characterized as an "open the borders" philosophy.

Kemp, whose "Georgia First" campaign slogan echoes Trump's "America First" rhetoric, declined to criticize the president, calling him a "master negotiator." But, Kemp added, "No matter what deal is brokered, my opposition to amnesty remains firm."

In Nevada, where Trump loyalty is the centerpiece of Republican Danny Tarkanian's primary challenge against Sen. Dean Heller, Tarkanian also broke from the president.

"It's his decision," Tarkanian said of Trump. "But I don't believe we should grant citizenship to people who have come to the country illegally."

He would, however, support permanent legal status for children who entered the country illegally, but said he draws the line at citizenship.

The consequences could be severe for the GOP as it struggles to energize voters heading into the 2018 midterm elections, when Republican majorities in the House and Senate are at stake. Recent Democratic victories in Alabama and Virginia suggest that the GOP has cause for concern, especially as Trump's job approval hovers in the mid-30s.

Protections for more immigration of these young immigrants could trigger wholesale revolt by Trump's base in November, said Bob Dane, executive director of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"There's widespread fear that if Trump capitulates to the Democrats and fails to deliver on his campaign promises on immigration, there's not going to be any more campaign promises for the GOP to make in the future, because the base will inflict a scorched-earth policy in midterms," Dane said.

Some allies hoped Trump comments and the proposal were an early step in negotiations that could change. Trump has zigzagged on the issue before. With Congress pushing Trump to clearly state his position, the White House plans to formally unveil a legislative framework next week.

But Trump on Wednesday left little wiggle room in his support for citizenship. "It's going to happen, at some point in the future, over a period of 10 to 12 years," he said.

———

Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.


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Parents of gymnasts feel guilt, wonder how they missed abuse

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Some parents thought they were misinterpreting the doctor's techniques. Others assumed their children were lying or mistaken.

But as more details emerged, the mothers and fathers had to face an awful truth: A renowned sports doctor had molested their daughters.

These parents, many fighting back tears, confronted Larry Nassar during his long sentencing hearing, lamenting their deep feelings of guilt and wondering how they could have missed the abuse that sometimes happened when they were in the same room.

"I willingly took my most precious gift in this world to you, and you hurt her, physically, mentally and emotionally. And she was only 8," Anne Swinehart told Nassar. "I will never get rid of the guilt that I have about this experience."

Many of the young athletes had come to Nassar seeking help with gymnastics injuries. He was sentenced Wednesday to up to 175 years in prison after admitting sexually assaulting patients under the guise of medical treatment while employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body, which also trains Olympians.

He counted on his charm and reputation to deflect any questions. He was so brazen that he sometimes molested patients in front of their parents, shielding the young girls with his body or a sheet. His clinic on the university campus was decorated with signed photos of Olympic stars, bolstering his credentials to star-struck athletes and their families.

Parents who voiced concern say Nassar dismissed their questions. The mother of one 12-year-old victim said she questioned Nassar about not wearing gloves and he "answered in a way that made me feel stupid for asking."

"I told myself, 'He's an Olympic doctor, be quiet,'" the woman said. "The guilt that I feel, and that my husband feels, that we could not protect our child, is crippling."

Some victims said they were so young that they did not understand they had been abused until they were adults, so did not tell anyone.

What's more, coaches told the parents that Nassar was the best and could help their daughters achieve their dreams.

Paul DerOhannesian, a former prosecutor in New York who has written a book on sexual assault trials, said abusers in positions of authority often hold "tremendous power" over both children and parents. Some parents also fear what will happen to their child if they report abuse, and children often have difficulty talking to parents about anything sexual.

"It shouldn't turn into a situation where we blame parents," DerOhannesian said.

But even when Nassar's abuse was reported to coaches and law enforcement authorities, many of them did not believe Nassar had done anything wrong, causing many parents and girls to second-guess themselves.

Donna Markham recounted how her then-12-year-old daughter Chelsey began sobbing in the car as they were headed home after a session with Nassar.

Her daughter said, "Mom, he put his fingers in me and they weren't gloved," then begged her mother not to confront Nassar, fearing it would derail her gymnastics career.

The next day, Donna Markham told her daughter's coach, who did not believe it. Markham said she also asked other mothers if their daughters had mentioned inappropriate touching by Nassar. "They gave me a look like, 'You're lying to me,'" she told the judge, choking back tears.

Chelsey Markham quit gymnastics not long afterward and entered a "path of destruction" and self-loathing and eventually killed herself.

"It all started with him," Markham told the judge. "It has destroyed our family. We used to be so close. ... I went through four years of intense therapy trying to deal with all this, until I could finally accept the fact that this was not my fault."

Some parents did not believe their daughters at first, finding it incomprehensible that the man they trusted could have done anything wrong.

Kyle Stephens, whose family was close with Nassar's, said he repeatedly abused her from age 6 to 12 during family visits to his home near Lansing, Michigan. But her parents did not believe her when she finally told them and made her apologize to Nassar.

Years later, her father realized she was telling the truth, and she blamed his 2016 suicide partly on the guilt he felt.

"Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don't stay little forever," Stephens told Nassar. "They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world."

Dancer Olivia Venuto, who said Nassar abused her from 2006, when she was 12, until 2013, said her parents did not believe her at first and sent Nassar messages of support after a 2016 Indianapolis Star investigation revealed the abuse.

Swinehart said that when her 15-year-old daughter, Jillian, told her she had been abused, "I tried to believe that there was some medical necessity for this treatment," she said. "The alternative was just too horrific, to think that I had let this happen to my child when I was sitting right there."

Police in Michigan investigated Nassar twice. One inquiry from 2004 concluded that his actions were medically appropriate. Another investigation in 2014 and 2015 did not result in charges.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced Nassar, told parents not to feel guilty. "The red flags may have been there, but they were designed to be hidden," she said.

Swinehart said other people can't know how they would have reacted in the same situation.

"Quit shaming and blaming the parents," she said. "Trust me, you would not have known. And you would not have done anything differently."

———

Webber reported from Indianapolis. Associated Press writer Mike Householder in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this story.