Phoenix Rescue Mission has cared for homeless people in the valley for over 60 years, but a major change about five years ago has transcended the impact of the organization.
For decades, the Christian organization functioned primarily as an emergency shelter, providing meals and a place to sleep for those living on the streets.
But around 2018, Phoenix Rescue Mission overhauled its services to exclusively offer an intensive residential recovery program for people with “life control issues” – typically drug or alcohol addiction.
Phoenix Rescue Mission’s director of customer services, Jesse Dallariva, said the organization’s leadership realized that most of the men they served in a very basic way had serious issues under – things like drug addiction and mental illness that weren’t treated with just a bed and a meal.
“We wanted to provide them with this life-changing therapy program and more intensive services to address these underlying issues,” he said.
Dallavira, who was at the Phoenix Rescue Mission at the time of the change, feared the new approach would lead some of the organization’s regular emergency shelter clients back to the streets instead of agreeing to a recovery program.
It was not the case. Dallavira said many people who had stayed in the emergency shelter for years decided to participate in the recovery program and have since found permanent accommodation.
In the first years after the change, Phoenix Rescue Mission saw a few dozen people each year placed in permanent housing after the program. Last year, more than 100 people left for permanent accommodation.
“They can be successful when they re-integrate into society and the working society, rather than not addressing these (underlying) issues,” said Dallariva.
‘Tired of being tired’
Alfaro Olivas didn’t want to go to Phoenix Rescue Mission, but he didn’t want to go to jail either. And in February of last year, those were his only options.
“I was so wrapped up in my addiction. I didn’t want to quit it, but I was tired of being tired,” Olivas said.
For years Olivas went from prison to the streets. He had an apartment and a wife but didn’t want to be home when he was in the darkest times of his addiction.
He had already tried to recover once. It went on for 45 days and “gave me clean time but it didn’t help me with other issues”.
“Everyone has a reason we use it,” Olivas said.
That was the biggest difference during his time at Phoenix Rescue Mission: he works on inner healing and addresses what drove him to use, he said.
“If I wanted something new I had to do something different,” Olivas said.
He has spent the last 18 months completing the Phoenix Rescue Mission recovery program and has begun ministerial training, where he is learning leadership skills that he can use for his new purpose – finding employment to help other people. drug addicts and homeless people.
Thanks to the recovery program, Olivas has reconnected with his four children, including a daughter and grandchildren he had never met before.
“God blessed me with a better trip than before,” Olivas said.
What changed ?
Phoenix Rescue Mission began phasing out its men’s emergency shelters in 2016 and officially became a recovery center in 2018.
Phoenix Rescue Mission also has a women’s recovery program at its Life-Changing Center, which provides apartment-style accommodations for women and their children in addition to child care while mothers participate in counseling and to other recovery services.
The women’s center, which opened in 2011, has always functioned as a recovery center.
In an emergency shelter, people generally do not need to be clean or sober to receive a bed or a meal. They can also come and go at will and do not have to engage in therapy or any other program as a condition of staying at the shelter.
Now, participants in the Phoenix Rescue Mission recovery program have more rules and restrictions on when they can and cannot leave campus and which classes they must attend.
“You sacrifice some freedoms… but you gain great opportunities by making those sacrifices,” said Dallavira.
He said the Phoenix Rescue Mission provides a “unique opportunity” to receive on-site housing and services for those who wish to join the program.
The recovery program typically lasts 12 to 18 months. Participants receive a “unique blend of Christian discipleship, church services, classroom work, recovery meetings, work therapy, recreational therapy, professional development and counseling in individual, group and family settings. “, according to the organization’s admission form.
The program does not work for all homeless people.
It is Christ-based and participants must participate in religious programs.
There are also people who do not want to commit to a one-year program or who are not yet ready to stop using drugs or alcohol.
For these people, an emergency shelter may be the best option until they are ready for a more intensive program.
Dallavira said people often view recovery programs and emergency shelters as competitors, but in reality they are both necessary to deal with the various stages of homelessness and addiction.
He said the Phoenix rescue mission has a great relationship with Central Arizona Shelter Services, the state’s largest emergency shelter provider.
Save, evaluate and place
When a man or woman arrives at Phoenix Rescue Mission, they are placed in the “RAP” or Rescue, Assess and Place program.
Dallariva said this was the compromise the organization decided to offer when it switched to a recovery program. Anyone can participate in the seven-day PAR program and receive a bed, food, showers, clothing, and whatever else they need.
During the program, employees assess the medical, mental health, recovery, legal and other needs of each individual and give them the opportunity to explore Phoenix Rescue Mission’s recovery program.
Employees then decide on the best placement for the individual, either in Phoenix Rescue Mission’s recovery program or in another facility that can provide more specialized care for medical or mental health needs.
At the end of the seven days, participants in the RAP program must decide whether to accept the placement. If they do, Phoenix Rescue Mission will do everything possible to help them succeed. If they don’t, they will have to leave the organization’s shelter.
“The gift of despair”
Judi Butterworth is a distinguished Commercial Real Estate Agent and Phoenix Rescue Mission Ambassador.
She said the organization’s commitment to recovery had produced “magical” results.
Butterworth used to teach classes in Maricopa County jails to encourage women to seek post-conviction recovery programs. She said the RAP program was very appealing to women who were unsure whether they wanted to move from prison to a one-year recovery program, but were ready to try it for a week.
At the end of that week they had to answer an important question, Butterworth said, “Are you going to stay here or go back to your old life?”
Most of the time, the women stayed.
Butterworth said it was the “gift of despair” – a popular mantra in recovery.
It sounds like an oxymoron, but correctly describes how a person with drug addiction sometimes doesn’t have to have other options – reaching “desperation” – before wanting to make a meaningful change, she said.
Butterworth, who has been sober for 11 years, is passionate about letting people reach for despair so they can make the necessary changes in their lives.
She is concerned that many emergency shelters and nonprofit homeless organizations promote addiction by meeting the needs of people without any membership. She thinks the government should invest more in programs like the Phoenix Rescue Mission that force people to deal with their addiction and mental health.
She said it was frustrating that the government and others who control how money is spent didn’t ask people like her, who have direct experience with drug addiction, how to create programs that will help them. people to deal with “cunning, confusing and powerful” disease.
“The people who donate the pot of money are overcome with passion but ignore the disease,” Butterworth said.
Butterworth led fundraising for the Women’s Changing Lives Center at Phoenix Rescue Mission almost ten years ago. She said she still had tears in her eyes when she went to visit him and saw women who had a second chance at life.
“It’s so happy. These are people who are free, off the streets. It’s like Disneyland. Everyone is smiling,” she said.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it. “
Deborah Barger arrived at Phoenix Rescue Mission in July 2019.
She had been living in her car for about eight months following an eviction. A man she said she trusted destroyed her car, leaving her with no place to stay.
She contacted outreach workers from Community Bridges Inc., who recommended that she try Phoenix Rescue Mission.
“As soon as I walked in the gates I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” said Barger.
Barger was struggling with depression resulting from childhood abuse and the recent death of a friend.
Through the recovery program, she learned to forgive those who had hurt her and took anger management classes to learn how to deal with her feelings.
“I wanted to change my life and decided that if I was to stay here and fight really hard, this is what I was going to do,” said Barger.
At 63, she has just completed the Phoenix Rescue Minister’s Program and plans to re-enter the workforce.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it. God is ready to help everyone down,” Barger said.
Housing insecurity coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is funded by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.
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