UMOM's Watkins facility

The group of representatives from churches across Ahwatukee Foothills toured UMOM's Watkins facility Wednesday, July 13. The facility houses about 120 single women and 20 families needing emergency shelter. Volunteer groups are invited to help provide meals to the nearly 200 people the shelter feeds each night.

Submitted photo

The local faith-based community is coming together to try and fight homelessness in Ahwatukee Foothills.

A group of representatives from churches in the community, including St. Benedict Catholic Church, Desert Foothills United Methodist Church, Mountain View Lutheran Church, Esperanza Lutheran Church and individuals from Mountain Park Community Church, have been meeting for months to discuss what they as faith-based groups can do to help the homeless.

The group was organized through Connecting to Serve, a local non-profit that brings groups together to meet the needs of the community.

Pat Impiccini, a member of Connecting to Serve and an Ahwatukee resident, had some experience with a group in Tempe called Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program or I-HELP.

The faith-based communities in Tempe house close to 30 homeless individuals, seven nights a week, at various churches across the community. Other churches provide a meal.

"We were very successful and they're still doing it," Impiccini said. "When I learned of the efforts of Connecting to Serve and bringing the faith-based communities together here I just thought that was a terrific idea. I went to the meetings and I thought maybe there's something we can do like the I-HELP program to help the community in Ahwatukee. We discussed some of that and we ended up having some separate meetings for those interested in helping."

The first step for the group was trying to find out who they were serving. The group met with the Kyrene Resource Center and Ben Morris, Ahwatukee's community action officer for the Phoenix Police Department, and realized the homeless community in Ahwatukee is very different from Tempe.

"For Tempe's I-HELP program, they find those close to 30 individuals and they're really individuals, they're not families," Impiccini said. "What we found is we don't have homeless individuals so much as we have homeless families in Ahwatukee."

Impiccini said they've learned many homeless families in Ahwatukee are living in their cars or with relatives or friends because they don't know where to turn for help and they don't want to take their kids out of Ahwatukee schools.

The next step was deciding how to help and educate these families and that is where the group is currently at. The group has been touring UMOM New Day Center's facilities in Phoenix to determine how they might be able to help their program or model their own.

UMOM is a private non-profit agency that provides emergency shelter, transitional housing and domestic violence shelter to the Valley's homeless community.

In August the group plans to learn more about Family Promise, a program that prescreens families and then houses them for a night in different churches in the community. Desert Foothills United Methodist Church and Mountain View Lutheran Church are already taking part in Family Promise.

Though the group is working hard, they want to be working quicker to solve the needs of the community. Until they can design a program that works, they're spreading the message that there is help.

Their goal is to provide as many faith communities as possible with a "homeless tool kit," find as many resources as possible in the Ahwatukee Foothills community, work with existing programs like I-HELP, UMOM and Family Promise and then spread the word through faith communities.

"We're really at the very beginning of identifying who we are helping and how to do that," Impiccini said. "We're looking at working as individual parishes to get help quickly. We continue to learn more and more about who we're serving and what we're seeing and what we can do together as well as individually."

Faith-based groups interested in helping the outreach efforts can contact Impiccini at Impiccini has cards he is distributing to interested churches with a number to call for temporary shelter so they can provide immediate help to those in need. The group is still trying to discover ways to invite the community to get involved. For now they suggest volunteering for UMOM and other organizations to get some experience and get involved.

"We were surprised to see that we hadn't been working together," Impiccini said. "It's been a pleasure to see that one community has a resource that maybe another doesn't and we can work together. We're proud of what we're doing and we'll see how all of that goes."

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