St. Vincent de Paul of Arizona tests a temporary relief center for migrants

Mar 26, 2019, 4:34 AM
(KTAR News Photo/Nailea Leon)...
(KTAR News Photo/Nailea Leon)
(KTAR News Photo/Nailea Leon)

PHOENIX — As Valley churches continue to be overwhelmed with migrants released from federal detention, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Arizona is trying out a new way to help meet their needs.

The nonprofit opened a temporary day relief center on Friday as a test, with hopes of making it a regular program.

“We really were trying to provide an alternative to the Greyhound stations, because I understand that when there aren’t enough churches or organizations to accept folks being released, they release to the Greyhound station,” Jessica Berg, chief program officer, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday.

“So our role has really been a safety net for folks, their families. There’s kids without diapers, without shoes, and we’re trying to provide the hospitality piece so they can come here and get those basic needs met.”

Berg said the nonprofit partnered with the International Rescue Committee to help migrants find overnight shelter, contact family members in the U.S. and make travel plans.

She said the relief center’s daily capacity is around 100, but they were able to serve 128 people on Friday.

They provided migrants with meals and snacks, water and coffee, clothes, backpacks, toys and hygienic products, she said.

“Hopefully we can keep this going for a couple months,” Berg said.

“What we’ve been told is (it’s) anticipated that the numbers may decrease as the weather gets warmer, and so we are trying to provide some relief until then.”

Last week, Mesa Pastor Magdalena Schwartz asked for help from local governments and churches as she told KTAR News that her network for assisting migrants is overwhelmed.

She said the churches she’s worked with have housed more than 40,000 migrants over the past five-plus months while travel plans were being confirmed, which can take a few days.

Henry Lucero, the Phoenix field director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told KTAR News last week that the federal government has no legal obligation to house migrants who have been released from overflowing detention centers.

Berg said the relief center isn’t just about providing resources, but also keeping migrants safe from possible threats like human trafficking.

“It’s not a political issue for us. It’s just kind of a morality and a crisis issue,” she said.

“There’s people in need, and we’ve always served people in need … where’s the crisis in the community and can we help?”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report. 

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St. Vincent de Paul of Arizona tests a temporary relief center for migrants