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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff’s Marco Avitia leaps into the air to head the ball toward the Canyon Del Oro goal Saturday afternoon during the first round of the 4A Conference state tournament at Flagstaff High School.

Arizona Snowbowl, courtesy  

Skiiers and snowboarders enjoy the two inches of new snow Arizona Snowbowl received early Friday morning. The ski resort was set to get another 3 inches throughout the day with more coming later next week. According to the organization, Snowbowl has received a base of 285 ((23.75 feet) inches total this winter.  

Arizona Snowbowl, courtesy  

Skiiers and snowboarders enjoy the two inches of new snow Arizona Snowbowl received early Friday morning. The ski resort was set to get another 3 inches throughout the day with more coming later next week. According to the organization, Snowbowl has received a base of 285 (23.75 feet) inches total this winter. 

Caught in the storm: Tackling homelessness in record snowfall

Over the course of February's record-breaking storm and the three days that preceded it, 41 people found themselves outdoors and without shelter.

That number boils down to four families, 24 men, three veterans, 10 women, four children and two pets -- from Feb. 17-23. 

While Flagstaff’s homeless population drops between the months of November and April, about 80 percent of those who live in the city during the summer stay through winter, according to Ross Altenbaugh, executive director of Flagstaff Shelter Services. And winter presents its own challenges, especially come nighttime.

Enter Catholic Charities. 

Since 2010 Richard Brust, homeless outreach coordinator with Catholic Charities' PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) program, has been driving in and around the city with teams of two or more people on nights where the temperatures are predicted to drop below freezing, seeking out individuals before they settle down for the night.

“When we go out, we offer people assistance and the option to go with us for transportation to a shelter of some kind,” Brust said.

These can include motels, domestic violence shelters (though they are often full) or a faith-based organization -- one of the eight or so churches that take part in Flagstaff Shelter Service's overflow program.

After the family or individual gets settled, Catholic Charities gives individuals the option to partake in an evaluation by the organization to gauge the need for health or financial help. They also refer them to Front Door, a so-called coordinated entry system that can connect people to other organizations and living options within Flagstaff. 

"Sometimes it’s easy to find folks by finding foot tracks in the snow; other times, like this last snowstorm, you’ll drive by some foot tracks that you found and they'll be covered in less than an hour," Brust said. 

Brust and his outreach teams prioritize checking alleyways, shopping center parking lots, forested areas, drainage tunnels and bridges. Public parks are also on the list.

By his estimation, Catholic Charities outreach teams cover anywhere from 30-50 miles on any given night. 

People are under no obligation to go with Brust and his colleagues and can instead opt for supplies that they bring on the drives: items like tarps, blankets, sleeping bags, socks, gloves, hats, hand warmers, food and water, hygiene kits and flashlights.

“Some decide to stay out," Brust said.

That applied to four of the 41 individuals who were out during the storm, he said.

The outreach teams typically start the night between 9 and 10 p.m., after they've bought the necessary supplies and checked the availability of beds in local shelters; they stay out until about 3, sometimes 4 a.m. 

On the night of Feb. 22, with the storm total creeping closer to the 4-foot range, the teams worked until 8 a.m., according to Brust. 

"We ran into a bunch of people who were stranded at the Greyhound station. Their bus wasn’t coming, so we made sure they were staying warm. A few of them had places to go. We took a number of people where they needed to go in terms of shelters," he said.

Other conditions besides sub-zero temperatures that dictate sending outreach teams include freezing winds and/or more than two inches of snow.

In the winter of 2013, eight people experiencing homelessness died of exposure in Flagstaff, a number that dropped to zero in 2017. Thirteen people total died in that five-year span: According to data collected by FSS, two people died from exposure in 2014, two in 2015 and one in 2016. 

According to the National Health Care for Homeless Council, 700 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States. 

Flagstaff Shelter Services opened its overflow program in 2014, in part to combat exposure deaths. The partnership with a number of faith-based organizations that rotate their space offers anywhere from 10-40 beds, depending on the church.

According to Altenbuagh, nobody has been turned away for lack of beds since then. 

"One exposure death is too many already, and what we'd hate is if it was because there isn’t room, because that’s unacceptable," she added.  

All this comes as Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Report on Homelessness in Arizona showed a 10.3 percent increase between 2017 and 2018.

The 2018 annual Point in Time count showed the homeless population at 415 people in Coconino County. The vast majority of those counted, however, about 86 percent, were in the Flagstaff area.

Of those counted, 118 were found outside shelters and 297 were in shelters.

The 2018 Arizona Balance of States (a designation that includes every county in Arizona except Maricopa and Pima) found 2,187 people experiencing homelessness. This is a 24 percent increase over the prior year's count; 1,085 of all persons (49.6) percent were unsheltered -- a 53 percent increase over 2017's PIT results.

This can, in part, be attributed to an increase in population generally. However, according to HUD, the increase, at least statewide, is also the result of rising rent costs, housing prices and stagnant wages.

According to Leah Bloom with the City of Flagstaff Housing Program, Flagstaff continues to face similar issues. 

"Nationwide, affordable housing has become a critical issue in communities and unfortunately Flagstaff is no different," she said. 

Man suspected of starting Copley Fire found guilty in court

The man suspected of starting the Copley Fire that burned down two Winona homes last April was found guilty Tuesday on all counts by a jury.

Steve A. Carter

Steve Carter was charged with reckless burning, three counts of endangerment and four counts of criminal damage. The Copley Fire affected 85 acres in the Winona-Townsend area, burning down a large amount of personal property including two homes.

Carter declined to comment on the verdict, choosing to speak through his public defender Steven Harvey. Harvey said that they felt like they were given a fair chance to plead their case by the jury.

“We’re disappointed in the verdict,” Harvey said. “This was a tragedy for everyone, but we can certainly understand where the jury was coming from.”

The expected sentencing for all counts is close to 10 years. The jury agreed that Carter owed at least $22,000 in damages. A final amount will be decided at a later date.

The state’s reckless burning case included damage to two homes, trucks, ATVs, motorcycles, wild lands and a non-residential structure. As victims testified in the trial, many of these items were completely destroyed.

Photographs shown in the trial included burned-out trucks, melted aluminum and burned-down homes, like the property owned by Julia Jones, who testified in the case. She said her home was purchased at around $100,000 and had increased in value before being burned down.

But for Jones, the home and cars were not the worst of it.

“The pictures and things that were handed down from generations — antiques, jewelries that belong to my grandmother, given to my mom, given to me when my mom died. It can’t be replaced with money,” she said.

Jones lived with Tyrone Davis, who was in the home when the fire burned it. He spoke on the stand about how quickly the fire overtook the home.

“I’m not afraid of too many things, but that was scary and that was the closest I ever felt to death,” Davis said. “If I had made a mistake or I had slipped I would be dead, and that I know for a fact.”

Coconino County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis McCade responded to the fire in April 2017. He approached Carter and asked him about the burn.

“He stated that he started it and that he was burning some trash. After he lit it, the fire had died down. He thought the fire was out and as he left, he noticed the fire had caught some dry vegetation,” McCade said. Carter told the deputy that the wind caught the fire and spread it rapidly.  

Controlled burning in the area requires a permit and for people to provide their information if they plan to burn. Burning had been prohibited the day of the fire.

Carter’s sentencing hearing will be on April 15, a week after the anniversary of the fire.

Steve A. Carter

Bill aims to curb 'party house' rentals in Arizona neighborhoods

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to curb some of the abuses that were created when they agreed three years ago to let people rent out their own homes for overnight guests.

HB 2672 would prohibit homeowners from allowing properties to be used for special events. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that will put an end to "party houses" where a home in a residential neighborhood suddenly becomes the site for dozens and dozens of guests.

But lawmakers balked at putting an actual limit on the number of people who can stay in a home.

More significant, the legislation still allows what Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, calls "money-grubbing capital investors" to buy up multiple homes and condos in a neighborhood solely to make them available on platforms like Airbnb. Blanc said this practice not only alters the character of existing neighborhoods but dries up the supply of affordable housing for people who live in the community.

Kavanaugh said he agrees with what Blanc sought to do. But he feared that such a provision would incur the wrath of those investors and those who work with them, condemning the entire proposal to failure.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, also a foe of what he said are abuses of vacation rentals for party houses, put a finer point on the politics of it all.

"Let me point out that real estate agents are a very powerful entity within this body," he said.

And then there's the fact that the industry has an ally in Gov. Doug Ducey, who signed the 2016 legislation in the first place.

That law overruled any existing or future city ordinances that limit short-term rentals, leaving cities with the power to regulate only things like noise and parking rules.

In a ceremonial bill signing that year engineered by Airbnb, Ducey touted the change as good for visitors seeking alternatives to hotels and resorts, and for homeowners who can make some money.

But even back in 2016, Kavanagh was complaining that the law covers more than those renting out a bedroom or their home. There is no limit on the number of properties an investor could buy and days a home could be rented out to successive guests -- all in the same residential area -- potentially turning an area into a vacation rental zone.

Asked at the time whether that could change the character of neighborhoods, Ducey responded, "I'm not going to answer these hypotheticals."

And what does the governor think now? An aide to Ducey said his boss does not comment on pending legislation.

But Kavanagh said these questions are no longer hypotheticals. So he wants to rein in what other lawmakers and the governor let loose.

As originally crafted, HB 2672 would have limited rentals to no more than two people per bedroom, plus an additional two. So for a four-bedroom home, the maximum guests could be 10.

That, he said, drew opposition from owners of bigger homes who insisted there was plenty of space for more people to bed down.

Also gone is language that would have allowed local governments to limit the number of guests -- people other than the renters -- who could be on the property after 10 p.m.

And a proposal to have properties monitored electronically to determine the number of occupants and the noise level fell out after privacy objections.

What's left is a requirement for property owners to provide a phone number that local authorities can reach if there are complaints at any time of the day.

But the biggest element that survived prohibits vacation rentals from being used for non-residential purposes, like special events, retail operations, restaurants or banquet space. That, said Kavanagh, should eliminate the parties that create many of the complaints of neighbors.

Blanc said Kavanagh is on the right track, telling colleagues that what now exists isn't what lawmakers were told in 2016.

"What originally was sold as a way for empty-nesters and other owner-occupants to make extra money by renting a spare bedroom to a foreign tourist has become a multi-billion dollar industry that heavily caters to large groups and special events where entire homes are rented out and treated like bars and concert halls," she said.

But Blanc said the bill doesn't go far enough. She suggested that cities be permitted to limit these rentals to houses where the owner is the resident or the house is a second home.

"However, if you are just a capital investor coming in and changing the neighborhood completely by buying up as many homes as possible so you can continue to profit by calling yourself an Airbnb business, then you should be treated as a hotel," she said.

And then there's what Blanc said is the problem of the disappearance of affordable housing.

"These are large, money-grubbing capital investors who are using property rights in the state of Arizona as a way to have billions and billions of dollars go into their pocketbooks," she said.

Kavanagh said that he actually considered what Blanc proposed. But he said he was dissuaded after meeting with some of the large commercial operators who he said are "very professional people that want to run good operations."

Anyway, he said, adding that language would likely sink the entire bill.

But Kavanagh said there may be a way of addressing this in the future by giving cities the right to use their zoning laws to limit the number of vacation rentals within a particular area.