How St. Vincent de Paul manager went from homeless to ranch owner

Jun 20, 2023, 4:25 AM | Updated: Jul 10, 2023, 12:32 pm

Ranch owner Melinda Anderson works with St. Vincent de Paul, an international non-profit that provides services for people experiencing poverty. Since opening in 1946, St. Vincent de Paul has served 37 million free meals to people in central and northern Arizona. It's also spent almost $9 million on homeless assistance and prevention programs. It's a cause Anderson holds close to her heart. She became homeless around 1997. "Drugs was a big part of it," she told KTAR News 92.3 FM. Anderson left prison eight years ago. "I decided when I come out, I'm going to have to be a whole different person," she said. Her family's support made a huge difference in turning her life around. Now she's a homeowner with a ranch full of animals who rely on her. "I bought a house, turned it into a ranch," she said. "The family support, friends support — that really helped out." Now she helps people who are experiencing homelessness as a program supervisor at the Chris Becker Dining Hall in Phoenix. She's responsible for dining room operations, from serving food to supervising guest programs. "I'm just trying to help as many people as I can to get their life back in order and to get their kids back or set their goals and make their dreams happen," she said. "Everybody can do it."

Last week, KTAR News 92.3 FM launched its five-part “Without a Home” series, a KTAR News special report on homelessness in metro Phoenix. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 here. This story shines a light on one of many homeless success stories in Arizona: that of St. Vincent de Paul manager Melinda Anderson. 

PHOENIX — Eight years ago, Melinda Anderson was sitting in a prison cell. Now she works as a manager for St. Vincent de Paul so she can save people experiencing homelessness from going down that path. She also has her own ranch, which she couldn’t have imagined back then.

“I became homeless back in about ’97 for quite a few years,” she told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Evening News.

Back then, she wasn’t offered any services to help end her homelessness.

“This was before CBI was out there,” she said, referring to the Community Bridges, Inc. nonprofit, which helps people recover from addiction.

“I really didn’t put myself in the position to be offered services,” she said. “I stayed pretty much away from anybody that could reach me.”

For instance, she didn’t know about St. Vincent de Paul’s services, from free meals to help getting IDs like Social Security cards or birth certificates.

“That would have maybe made a difference, had I known that they had services for people,” she said.

Now, she hopes to be a pillar of support for people in her old situation. “We provide clothes, we provide showers … pretty much everything they need to get back on track.”

How to create more homeless success stories in Arizona

Arizona’s homeless population leapt by 23% from 2020 to 2022, according to a December report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Anderson says opening more shelters is one of the best solutions for people experiencing homelessness.

“I feel that there really needs more shared living so that people that have a set income can afford to live somewhere,” she said. “The rent is so high right now, if they can come up with more affordable housing, [that] would be another great help.”

Currently, St. Vincent de Paul offers three places for people to stay: the 60-bed Ozanam Manor for older adults, the 200-bed Washington Street Shelter and the Phoenix Dining Room, which can give up to 275 people overnight relief from extreme heat or cold.

There’s also the Sunnyslope Dining Room, which is mainly a resource for people who are hungry, but can also double as a temporary weather relief shelter.

Anderson is optimistic about upcoming shelter projects.

“They’re opening more shelters, which is a big, big solution towards helping people because you get them off the street where we can assist even more,” she said. For example, the city of Mesa just voted to buy a $7 million hotel to provide temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

St. Vincent de Paul is one of many organizations providing relief for Arizona’s homeless population. KTAR compiled a full list of local resources here.

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How St. Vincent de Paul manager went from homeless to ranch owner