"Drenched by mountain rains,
they huddle against the rocks for want of shelter."
For me, this passage from the Book of Job always conjures up images of children lost in a storm huddling in the darkness.
For most of us, this past year truly felt like a storm. Sheltered, isolated, insulated, we all waited patiently for the storm to pass. Signs are good, the rain is subsiding and the clouds are starting to disperse.
For some of us, however, the storm was devastating. Having a shelter, a home, is something that nearly 7500 people in Maricopa county could not rely on according to the Point-In-Time survey conducted by Maricopa Association of Governments in January 2020. Of these, 548 were households with at least one adult and one child. Families in need of help, in need of a shelter.
I only became aware of the House of Refuge a few years ago. Looking for a small room to meet with a community group, a friend recommended we speak to Nancy Marion – the executive director for the House – she welcomed us with open arms and gave us a tour of the facility. Until then, I had no idea what an amazing story hid behind the little non-descript row of houses nestled between the ASU Polytech Campus and the Roosevelt WCD canal along Williams Field road.
Repurposed in 1996 after the Williams Field Air Force base was decommissioned, the facility houses 88 2-bedroom homes, a chapel, and an office building offering transitional housing and supportive services to families that are deemed homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or fleeing a domestic violence situation. While the facility does provide temporary housing, it is not an emergency shelter. To be eligible, a family must be willing to work, afford the basic $350 rent, and the $50 utilities.
Upon signing a 12-month lease, families are provided with a home, basic furnishings, clothing, and food. In other words, everything to help them stabilize their lives. In addition, all residents have access to individualized case management services, employment assistance, and education support. Working with state, county, local government, community partners and other faith-based organizations, the House provides a path to self-sufficiency.
If you are in the middle of a storm, this is the eye. Streets are safe, houses are clean and well maintained, children can go to school and parents can pick them up after work. A community center provides after-school programs for the children, a community garden, and a safe place to grow.
An amazing story, a miracle 23 years in the making. After pouring her heart into the community, Nancy Marion announced her retirement this past year after making an impact and help transform countless lives.
The new executive director for the House – Kayla Kolar – is not a newcomer to the community. With 27 years of experience working with a variety of non-profit organization, Kayla was, until December, executive director of HD South, home of the Gilbert Historical Museum located in Heritage District.
This changing of the guards could not come at a more critical time for the House as most of its programs were severely impacted by the pandemic. For much of last year, most of the House services were either suspended or adjusted to the new normal. Volunteer activities were down to a minimum, the staff reduced by 25%, the Community Center closed, and fundraising efforts curtailed by the COVID-19 virus.
This small community still managed to persevere and thrive with some help from the community. Most parents who could work remotely were able to access the resource needed while staying at home. Children forced to study from home were, in some cases, provided with laptops and access points to attend their classes remotely. To minimize contacts, support and case management services were provided via phone or online meetings.
As with any storm, the time is come to assess the damage and to start re-building. With vaccination underway and the hope of things getting back to normal, the team hopes to be able to restore all programs and service to their pre-pandemic state within 6 to 12 months. While some services like the furniture pickup have yet to resume, the donation center has started accepting them last month.
Things are looking up but Kayla, the team, and the 80 family currently residing at the House could use some help. Donations of all kind are always welcome; they are currently looking for small furniture. Our family had a great time spending a Saturday outdoor helping to paint some of the home with a group of volunteers. What a great opportunity to meet some of the families – while socially distancing, of course.
If you have not done so already, you have until April 15 to avail yourself of the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit. If you or your organization can do more, it is possible for you to adopt a home for the year.
This storm will pass. The darkness will recede. Time to look to each other and head out of the mountains…