KTAR News tours old Phoenix school turned into migrant shelter
PHOENIX — The cafeteria inside a south Phoenix school has a play area with toys in one corner and several tables with dozens of chairs in another. The raised stage in the front has a large banner hanging that says “welcome” in Spanish.
This is just one of the rooms inside a new shelter for migrant families opening next week called the Welcome Center. It was once the Ann Ott Elementary School, which closed more than a decade ago.
“What we will be providing here in partnership with a number of other organizations is emergency humanitarian assistance to asylum-seeking families when they are released from detention,” said Stanford Prescott, community engagement coordinator for the International Rescue Committee of Arizona.
The Welcome Center opens on Monday with a capacity of 70 migrants who will sleep on new cots arranged in the cafeteria. By the end of the summer, the shelter will be able to sleep up to 277 migrants inside rooms that once served as classrooms.
Migrants will be provided food, clothes and hygiene items when they arrive. There’s also a room for medical screenings and another for legal advice.
Volunteers will help migrants with travel arrangements. Most migrants will stay a day or two before heading off by bus or plane to meet with relatives or friends in other parts of the United States.
“For that 24 to 48 hours before they head off on their way to their sponsor, we’re helping to make sure that they have a safe and stable place to begin that journey,” Prescott said.
The shelter is being funded entirely from private sources. The Phoenix Restoration Project and Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest are among the nonprofits helping run the shelter.
For the past several months, migrant families released from custody in Phoenix have been housed by churches and other groups. But the sheer volume of families released has overwhelmed those efforts.
Between Dec. 21 and July 24, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released 40,500 migrants into Phoenix. The flow has slowed down over the last few weeks.
ICE released 500 families into Arizona in the last three weeks, which is four times less than previous three-week periods.
Prescott said they aren’t surprised by the decrease. He said fewer migrants tend to make the journey to the U.S. during the hot summer months.
“What we do expect, though, is that numbers will go back up in the fall,” he said.
“So this is an investment to make sure that our community is ready to welcome those asylum seekers in the fall.”
Donations from the public will be accepted at the school on weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.