Homeless shelters are handing out hope for the holidays


Winter is quickly approaching, and temperatures in Flagstaff have already begun to drop significantly, especially during the evening. Those who are homeless may not have adequate clothing or shelter for the impending winter climate. The shelters across town offer a variety of services, including hot meals, showers and shelter.

Sunshine Rescue Mission Inc., which is made up of numerous shelters, including The Mission, Hope Cottage and Dorsey Manor, has been active in Flagstaff since 1961. Each shelter consists of a team of six staff members and volunteers. The organization is currently run by Executive Director Stephanie Boardman. She has served as executive director for 10 years, and her family has been involved for 25 years.

“Many in America are one paycheck away from being homeless, and many are just like you and [me],” Boardman said. “We listen, love and spend time with them, as if they were guests in our own home.

It opens its doors daily to those in need of food, showers and clothing. However at night, The Mission is an all-male shelter, whereas Hope Cottage serves only women and children. The Sunshine shelters are drug- and alcohol-free facilities oriented on recovery. The organization is faith based. However, Boardman said attending morning and evening chapel services is optional.

The Mission is run by shelter director Shaun Rost, who has been working with the organization since 2000. It has been a part of Flagstaff since 1957 and has a total of 74 beds. This year alone, The Mission has taken in 796 individuals according to the Sunshine Rescue Mission website. Rost said The Mission stays full for a majority of the year, and it givez out necessities during colder months.

“We do offer blankets, coats and sleeping bags during the winter months, as long as supplies last,” Rost said. “We also open our doors during the days when it is snowing.”

Hope Cottage was built in 2010 and is located in east Flagstaff. It is run by shelter director Sharon Wilcox, who will celebrate working with Hope Cottage for six years in February 2020. Wilcox said Hope Cottage is the largest homeless shelter for women and children in Flagstaff.

It has a total of 65 beds for singles and special rooms for mothers and their children. Wilcox estimated that the shelter houses 50 to 60 women per night. According to shelter data, Hope Cottage has taken in 276 individuals, both mothers and children, this year. Wilcox said all the Sunshine shelters have a case management system to accommodate each individual who comes to the shelter for assistance.

The New Life Foundation program is offered at all Sunshine shelters and is a 12-16 month program that is personalized to each individual. It allows participants to take classes on a wide variety of topics, such as jobs for life, conflict resolution and biblical teachings. Wilcox said they have programs available for men and women to earn their food handler and manager certifications.

“We help them formulate a plan for things like income and housing so they can build up their resources — physical, financial and emotional — before reentering back into society,” Wilcox said. “There are also many opportunities available for them to build social and employment skills, through front desk and laundry help, to food prep.”

Sunshine shelters also offer a counseling and recovery program called Genesis, which is nationally certified. Boardman said recovery programs empower those involved to move forward.

“Our goal is to help people get stable, get on their feet and to be a support system so they can choose to make better choices,” Boardman said.

Other services offered by the Sunshine Rescue Mission include an annual box giveaway, which takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Boardman said they give away more than 200 boxes filled with Thanksgiving food, which includes a turkey provided by Sechrist Elementary’s turkey drive. They feed roughly 1,000 people through the Thanksgiving box giveaway each year. Meals are served on Thanksgiving and Christmas at The Mission. During those days, over 500 people can receive a hot meal.

Anyone can volunteer at any of the shelters by going to the Sunshine volunteer page, and people can also donate gently-used clothing. Anybody who donates to the Sunshine Rescue Mission or any other eligible organization can receive a dollar-for-dollar volunteer page.

“During the winter months, we need jackets, socks, hats, gloves [and] blankets,” Boardman said. “At this time of year, whatever you will need, the homeless will need, too.”

Rost said during the winter months the bed count tends to stay the same. However, guest services, which include food, showers and clothing, needs increase.

In the spring, the rescue mission will open a thrift shop called Thrift for Goodness Sake, which will have clothing and other items available for purchase. Boardman said the thrift store will serve as a job training facility for those in the recovery program.

Another organization in town that provides shelter to those in need is Flagstaff Shelter Services (FSS), which has been open since 2006 and is run by Executive Director Ross Altenbaugh, along with a 32-person staff. Altenbaugh has been working in the field for almost 20 years and has been with FSS since 2014. She said the mission of FSS is to provide all individuals experiencing homelessness with crisis stabilization and the tools they need to reach stability. As of 2014, FSS is open year-round and just recently finished an expansion project.

“Last month, FSS completed an exciting shelter expansion project, which increased our on-site bed count from 86 to 163,” Altenbaugh said. “It ensures that every individual experiencing homelessness in Flagstaff on any given night has access to safe shelter, nutritious meals, warm showers and hygiene supplies.”

Altenbaugh said the expansion project happened due to an increase in individuals seeking services during winter months. The project has successfully enabled them to help 2,000 individuals annually.

Similar to the Sunshine Rescue Mission, FSS also provides individuals with resource referrals, case management and access to seasonally appropriate clothing. It also offers a variety of other programs, such as seasonal overflow shelters at local churches during the 23 coldest weeks of the year.

Altenbaugh said this year is the first time the overflow shelter program will serve whole families. In 2020, the shelter will offer expanded services, which include case management vocational services for both homeless and rehoused individuals. Altenbaugh said they will also collaborate with health care and behavioral professionals to implement a Housing is Healthcare program that will promote stability and wellness.

People can get involved with FSS through hosting a donation drive or volunteering.

“We are always in need of hygiene items, clothing, shoes, toilet paper and monetary donations,” Altenbaugh said.

Both Sunshine Rescue Mission and FSS want to make sure those in need have a safe place to stay during the upcoming winter months and throughout the year, while also providing them with the resources needed to get them back on their feet.