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Mesa nonprofit helps homeless families stay under one roof

MESA, Ariz. — A Valley charity has been working to keep impoverished families together and off the street.

Save the Family began in 1988 with the purpose of providing support to in-need families of the southeast Valley. Since then the organization has grown significantly, now serving families across Greater Phoenix and providing an array of services.

CEO Jackie Taylor said poverty and homelessness are major issues facing Arizona families.
“There are approximately 250,000 families throughout the state that need access to affordable housing but don’t have it,” she said.

One of the services provided by the nonprofit to combat the problem is transitional housing coupled with support.
“We started out with the homes and quickly realized that (providing) housing in and of itself wasn’t sufficient,” she said.

Families are given temporary housing units where they typically stay for 10 months, but they are also offered services such as job fairs, resume workshops, career development and personal finances training, Taylor said.
“We focus heavily on financial literacy, budgeting, how to live within a budget, how to buy, how to prepare food that is affordable,” she said.

After living in the transitional housing, families can then move into one of the organization’s affordable housing units, which are more permanent living options.

“Over the years we began to acquire properties throughout the East Valley cities,” Taylor said.

At those properties, clients can live in units at rates well below market value and often even below federal standards for what is considered affordable housing, Taylor said.

Beginning this week, Save the Family is in the process of a major upgrade to its facilities.
The charity is moving to a new facility near North Center Street and Centennial Way, about a half-mile from the current location.

The project to move the charity began just over a year ago and will help the organization’s operations, said Steve Langstaff, director of property development for the charity.

“The old building was built in 1973 so the layout of the building is functionally obsolescent,” Langstaff said. “This (new) building is state of the art … it’s just a more appealing building not only for the families we serve, but people that might be interested in helping the organization.”

He said the new building’s design and space will also help with efficiency and outlook for clients.

“We were serving families in spaces that weren’t really functional for them to be served in,” he said. “It was dark (in the old building), there were no windows. Here this is bright — there’s hope here.”

The new facility will house most of the support services and staff, Langstaff said.

Also part of the upgrade is a major expansion of 70 new housing units right across the street from the new building.

“This is huge, this is the first time we’ve ever taken on development where we’ve added a large number of units at any one time,” Langstaff said.

He said having the units right across the street makes it easier for the families to take advantage of the services offered at the charity’s main location.

He said it also makes upkeep on the units easier.

“Our other units are scattered all over the southeast Valley,” he said. “They’re harder to maintain because they’re in various locations so it’ll be less expensive for us operate in one small area.”

Taylor said the 70 units are the first phase of the expansion, and they will be adding another 62.

She said having the new units in another step forward toward combating Arizona’s homelessness.

“When I tell you that 250,000 families in Arizona do not have housing that’s affordable to them, this means we’ve just added 132 units to that portfolio,” she said.

“I look at it as an opportunity for our working poor families to have the quality of housing that they deserve, and that their children deserve to grow up in.”

Carra Tsosie is a member of a family that lives in the temporary housing and said before coming to Save the Family she had difficultly getting stable while living in and out of homeless shelters.

“In the shelters you only have four months to actually find employment, find a place to live and things like that,” she said. “It doesn’t give you a lot of time to also save up money if you do obtain employment. It doesn’t give you a lot of time to get back on your feet.”

Tsosie waited 10 months for a chance to enter Save the Family and since October has been in housing with her husband and four children.

She said the program has been an incredible experience for her and really helped strengthen her family.

“We literally lost everything … but we realize that’s just petty stuff,” she said. “What we have in our hearts and in our memories, and that we have our family back together as a whole instead of being all spread apart … we can build memories now and that’s what we’re starting to do.”