FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Flagstaff’s largest shelter for the homeless closed its
nighttime services for the season Wednesday, meaning dozens are heading for the
woods in and around the northern Arizona city in search of places to stay.
Facility Director Stephen Tomasello of Flagstaff Shelter Services said some
people have found alternate housing, but most have nowhere to go.
“Most of these people are going straight to the curb. They’re all going to the
forest,” Tomasello said.
Flagstaff bans camping, but some homeless people are nevertheless expected to
camp within city limits to be near services, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.
Others said they have campsites beyond Flagstaff’s borders picked out in order
to avoid encounters with law enforcement.
The nighttime closing each spring is a budget reality for Flagstaff Shelter
Services, according to Tomasello. With enough money, the shelter could stay open
at night year-round.
“We need some major league funding,” Tomasello said. “We need some major
The nonprofit continues to offer daytime services that include food, laundry,
TV, computers and other services. The shelter houses 77 men and nine women every
night. Tomasello said many residents count on the shelter as a place where they
can feel secure while they search for work.
Homeless people camping in the forest are expected to build fires to keep warm
as the nights are still cold around Flagstaff. This week, Flagstaff was expected
to reach overnight low temperatures in the 30s. But with Arizona already in
wildfire season, officials are concerned campers could trigger a blaze.
Officials in northern Arizona have issued fire restrictions about a month
earlier than usual. Paul Summerfelt, wildland fire management officer for
Flagstaff Fire Department, said various agencies have been giving presentations
at homeless shelters on fire danger, sending out messages via social media and
making sure equipment is ready and personnel are trained.
Flagstaff housing, fire and other officials discussed the possibility Tuesday
of closing the Coconino National Forest this summer. That would eliminate
another potential site for campers to turn to while the shelter is closed. In
the past, city officials put up temporary shelters. Any possible closure was
still more than a month off, Summerfelt said.
“There’s a lot of reluctance to do that because of the enforcement nightmare
and the huge impacts that happen on tourism.” Summerfelt said. “It’s not a
decision made lightly.”
Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/