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Flagstaff Shelter Services celebrates expansion
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Flagstaff Shelter Services celebrates expansion

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Flagstaff Shelter Services is back in full operation at its Huntington Drive facility, with twice the capacity for individuals experiencing homelessness.

The shelter began housing clients again early last month -- in time for the season’s first snowstorms -- after about 100 days of construction on a second floor with room for an additional 77 beds, increasing the shelter capacity to 163. Both floors provide emergency shelter to people ages 18 and older, regardless of their faith, sobriety or mental health.

The organization launched a “Raise to Rise” campaign in June to collect the $1 million needed for its facility and program expansions, of which more than $900,000 has now been raised.

During summer construction, clients were transported nightly from the shelter to Flagstaff Middle School and back early the following morning to retrieve their personal items. Flagstaff Shelter Services (FSS) Executive Director Ross Altenbaugh said the team is thankful for this partnership with Flagstaff Unified School District, but pleased to have returned to its own facility, a more cost- and time-efficient option.

“People can be here, they can be warm, they can be safe. That is the best feeling in the world to be able to offer that,” Altenbaugh said. “I’m just grateful and thankful that [construction is] over but also that we’re back in our own house.”

The second floor, inserted between the existing sleeping space and warehouse-height ceiling, includes rows of bunk beds, two bathrooms with two showers in each, a closet to hold donations from the community, a central desk for shelter coordinators and the “recovery den,” an enclosed room with eight beds specifically for people in recovery from substance use disorders, a new service provided by the shelter.

With the additional beds for individuals, the shelter will be able to use its overflow spaces in local faith-based organizations for families with children.

Ending homelessness

Though shelter staff and community members celebrated the achievement with a housewarming luncheon Tuesday, Altenbaugh told the group of more than 100 attendees that her predominant feeling about the experience was not joy, but anger.

“I am angry that in almost 2020, in the wealthiest nation in this world, there are people … sleeping in vehicles or on freezing sidewalks,” she said.

Altenbaugh and the rest of the FSS team plan to use the expansion as a launching point to increase local efforts to end homelessness, which she said affects about 700 people in Coconino County.

During the housewarming, Ted MacMahon, FSS Board Member and Fund Development Chair, said the shelter’s services were previously limited by available space.

“With our expansion, we can now take a much deeper dive into the factors that sadly keep some of our neighbors without homes,” MacMahon said. “We can now grow our vocational support, our permanent housing programs, our health care programs and more. This continuum enables housing stability.”

Holly Creager, Front Door Specialist and Case Manager, explained that local programs and resources will now be brought to shelter clients more regularly, allowing shelter staff to give a “warm handoff” to a representative working from within the shelter either that day or during a scheduled time, rather than just a referral.

These partnerships help connect shelter clients to resources needed for permanent housing. FSS reports this year it has permanently housed more than 400 adults and children and of the individuals it has placed in permanent housing over time, 86% still have housing a year later.

“With more resources in place, our community can end homelessness,” Altenbaugh said. “We can and we are.”

The expansion was funded primarily by a Community Development Block Grant, the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, LGR Foundation, Del E Webb Foundation, Coconino Board of Supervisors and the Don Nierling Memorial Fund.

Representatives from several of these participating organizations shared their hope for the community through the shelter’s work on Tuesday.

“The only things we do in this life that really matter are what we do for each other. And that’s what’s going on here,” said Larry Johnson, Vice President and Director of the Del E Webb Foundation.

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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