By Corinne Murdock |
On Tuesday a groundbreaking occurred for Tucson’s first forthcoming $6.8 million “medical respite center” exclusively for the homeless. Medical respite centers are short-term residences and caregiving locations for the homeless that are ill or injured enough to warrant assistance but not hospitalization.
As of mid-March, the initiative raised just under $3.5 million. Major funders include the Diane & Bruce Halle Foundation, St. Joseph Catholic Healthcare Endowment Fund, Connie Hillman Foundation, Southwest Catholic Health Network, Ginny L. Clements and Tom Rogers, O’Rielly Family Foundation, Del E. Webb Foundation, Jim and Vicki Click, William and Mary Ross Foundation, Margaret E. Mooney Foundation, PetSmart Charities, Union Pacific, Raskob Foundation, and the Sundt Foundation.
The Medical Respite Center for Men and Women Experiencing Homelessness will be 15,000 square feet and include housing for 10 women and 36 men, a small group therapy space, activity areas, a cafeteria, a kitchen, a pet play area, and a chapel.
The nonprofits behind the medical respite center are Catholic Community Services (CCS) of Southern Arizona and the H.S. Lopez Family Foundation Center of Opportunity. CCS has been involved in housing illegal immigrants under federal contracts over the last year.
In September, AZ Free News reported that an undisclosed number of Haitian illegal immigrants and refugees were bussed or flown into Tucson. CCS ran a shelter in Tucson called Casas Alitas.
Also behind the medical respite center is El Rio Health Center, a dental and medical center that receives federal funds from Health and Human Services (HHS) and is has federal status under the Federal Public Health Service (PHS).
According to the Tucson Housing and Community Development, there were an estimated 1,660 homeless people on any given night in Pima County in 2020. Those experiencing chronic homelessness in the county were estimated to be around 380.
Tucson is plagued with a homelessness crisis currently. Councilman Steve Kozachik said that the current number of homeless people are beyond past trends. Those rising numbers correspond with an increase in homeless deaths, as reported by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.
In a statement to KGUN9, Kozachik said that he was attempting to convince the rest of the council to establish controlled encampments to counteract the masses of temporary encampments occurring naturally where the homeless congregate and settle.
“I think the rest of the council simply does not like the optics, and they believe allowing an encampment to exist constitutes a failure,” said Kozachik. “I have a different perspective. Squeezing the balloon and moving people around from camp-to-camp week to week is the failure.”
Controlled encampments have begun to pop up in the major cities experiencing homelessness crises in other states, such as Denver, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Denver launched its first controlled encampment last November. In April, the city and county asked federal appeals judges to rescind court-ordered standards on homeless encampment cleanups intended to preserve public health and safety.
Albuquerque hasn’t established controlled encampments yet, but it’s likely they will soon. Their city council is looking to amend its zoning code to allow for encampments managed mostly by churches or nonprofits: tents with facilities like restrooms called “safe outdoor spaces.”