Monday, May 1, 2017

Month 5 of 48: Flagstaff Shelter Services

We are five months in... anyone else feeling tired? Well, take a quick rest, but don't let the fatigue set in. When you start to feel low, we want you to consider this quote from Ross Altenbaugh, the Executive Director of Flagstaff Shelter Services.

Residents of FSS get keys to housing.  PC: FSS
"If they can keep going, so can we."

Ross was referring to the clients of Flagstaff Shelter Services, when she uttered these words as we had dinner at Jacki's house not long ago.

Full disclosure, if you don't know this by now, Ross is my sister. So month 5, where we urge you to support this essential community service, is intensely personal. I have heard my sister talk so many times about FSS, but every single time I learn something new.

Ross and I grew up in Richmond, VA with our two other siblings. Our mother founded and ran a nonprofit that fed and clothed the homeless and underprivileged. It was called "Pennies for Heaven." I had left for college when she embarked on this journey, but Ross, eight years younger than me, was only ten years old when our mother found her life's work in PFH.

Ross told us, "I was raised in a household where my mother prioritized this kind of work. I was lucky to have this experience at such an impressionable age."

Our mother died in 2007 of breast cancer, but not before Ross began her career in continuing our mother's passion and devotion to serving those experiencing homelessness. In 2014, Ross and her family moved to Flagstaff where she took the helm of FSS.

The mission of FSS is to provide individuals experiencing homelessness with crisis stabilization and tools they need to achieve housing stability; regardless of faith, mental health, or sobriety. FSS (and we) believe housing is a right. As such, FSS provides critical shelter to those that are most likely to die on the streets tonight. But their end goal is housing for those in crisis.

FSS provides emergency shelter, however since Ross took over leadership, the agency has begun to follow the national model known as "Housing First." Under this system, the goal is to move individuals experiencing homelessness from homelessness to housing within 30 days. They are provided with wraparound services to insure success. The "Housing First" paradigm demonstrates outcomes upward of an 85% success rate (individuals still in housing after one year). Housing individuals experiencing homelessness is dramatically cheaper than emergency shelter.... to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per individual. Let that sink in. Best case scenario for a fellow human being and neighbor, AND it saves valuable community resources.

FSS is unique in Flagstaff, because as the mission states, people are provided with emergency shelter regardless of faith, mental health or sobriety. Barriers to shelter are removed so that folks do not die on the streets. During the winter, FSS has an overflow shelter system in cooperation with the faith-based community. On any given night, there should be a warm bed for any person who needs it in Flagstaff. After this initiative began, there was a 75% reduction in exposure deaths in Flagstaff.

These are scary and unstable times for social service agencies. Federal and State budget issues, reduced grant funding, and many more unpredictable variables make it very hard to plan. The new HUD secretary knows nothing about housing, but whatever. Nothing surprises us at this point, but it's important to remember that this is NOT NORMAL.



It makes the world go around. When you donate to FSS, it's tax deductible under the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit program. Instead of paying your hard earned tax money to the State of Arizona (because let's face it, they have no clue what they are doing), you can redirect your hard earned dollars straight to FSS. You can give up to $800 per year as a married couple ($400 as an individual). You can do it anytime and it doesn't all have to be at once. You can donate online RIGHT NOW at


*WELCOME BASKETS: Imagine your first apartment. Maybe you went to Target and bought the things you needed to get settled that first night. You turned that key for the first time and smiled, felt independent and free. FSS is working to help their clients have that same experience, and walk into their first home and have the basic items they need to get settled. This is a fantastic project for groups of children, offices, or families who just want to contribute. Think of what you needed on your first night in a new home and put that basket together (a shower curtain, some toilet paper, sheets, a pot in which to cook dinner, etc).

* DONATE FURNITURE AND HOUSEHOLD ITEMS: Along the same lines, these folks need furniture and other items to start their new lives in housing. If you have things to donate, you can deliver them to FSS on Huntington Drive 24 hours a day, there is always someone there to accept donations (at this time they do not have a way to pick up donations).

*ITEMS NEEDED FOR THE SHELTER (never enough of this stuff on hand). You can drop donations at the shelter or contact me or Jacki and we will help get your donations to the right place. They always need: toilet paper, industrial trash bags, toiletries (large bottles of shampoo), razors, feminine hygiene products, soap and paper towels.

*BUS PASSES. See Jacki on how to make this happen.


* Ross is an amazing speaker. She will come to your kid's school or your workplace and provide education on the issues surrounding homelessness in Flagstaff and nationwide. She will also give you and smaller groups tours of the Shelter Email her at to set something up (seriously, if you do nothing else DO THIS).

* Do you know a trade or have a special skill? Anything that they would normally have to pay for... you can volunteer to do. Maintenance, plumbing, cleaning, office work... Ross can use you and she will put you to work. Max (my 12 year old son) did some school volunteer hours at the Shelter. He cleaned and organized a closet, and it was very meaningful to him. There are limits on what children can do but Ross can find jobs for older kids.

* Stay up to date on the activities at FSS and go like the FSS Facebook page!

This Saturday, May 6, the annual Feast for Flagstaff will occur. The big barn building at Ft. Tuthill will be transformed by the amazing Kim Duncan into a beautiful space. Enjoy delicious food provided by several local chefs, a cash bar (first drink is on FSS!) and incredibly moving documentaries chronicling the lives of some of FSS's clients.

Jacki and I just happen to be part of the fundraising committee, so you know it's going to be a lot of fun. We will be working the front door and would love to see you there. The community has really come together for this event, and it's going to be amazing! Tickets are $75 each and you can purchase them here. 

BOTTOM LINE These folks are our neighbors. They are Veterans, they suffer from mental illness, they are victims of violence, domestic abuse, or just simply fell upon hard times. Our society has failed them in many ways, and under this administration the prospects are grim. If our safety net disintegrates, the problems only intensify. It is imperative that we stand up and speak out for the most vulnerable in our community. There is so much more to this agency that we feel passionately about, but in the interest of space we will share more in a few mid-month posts.

There are some very concrete and simple things you can do to change a person's life. We urge you to choose one thing... right now. It will make you feel good, we promise. Please share this with your friends. When you start to feel fatigued, know that you CAN and you MUST keep going. If they can do it, so can we.

No comments:

Post a Comment