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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Homeless help service needs city funding

    Tucson’s Information and Referral Services is on the verge of closing after 41 years of helping the homeless find shelters, assisting suicidal residents, and referring the hopeless to places where they can find assistance to pay for rent and utility bills.

    Throughout the years, Tucson I&R, a nonprofit organization, has lost funding from various backers – including the UA – and it no longer has the means to continue without financial help from the City of Tucson.

    “”They (the UA) decided they could not afford it anymore, even though it was only $600,”” said Leslie Ann Williams, executive director of Tucson I&R.

    For the past month, Tucson citizens and I&R employees have spoken at Tucson City Council meetings asking for assistance. The council has yet to put the organization on the agenda.

    If the council does not recognize the organization as an essential service that requires financial assistance, June could be the last month it is open, Williams said.

    “”We’re not asking to be rescued, we’re asking to be recognized as an essential service,”” she said. “”We have a shortfall of about $100,000 that we need to get us through June.””

    Some community donations will help keep Tucson I&R open through June, but the money shortage may force them to cut back to only weekday service until then, Williams said.

    The council does recognize that Tucson I&R is valuable through abuse-victim assistance, housing assistance and drug intervention services, but members are hesitant to fund a nonprofit organization, said C.T. Revere, chief of staff for councilmember Nina J. Trasoff.

    “”The city has never bailed out a nonprofit before,”” Revere said.

    The council does not have enough money to support all the nonprofit organizations in Tucson, he said, and added that funding one may result in others asking for funds.

    However, Williams said, other non-profits that are considered “”essential services”” receive funding from the city council, including the Botanical Gardens, Women’s Services and the Humane Society.

    If Tucson I&R closed, it could affect more than local citizens. The organization has formed a partnership Maricopa County to implement Arizona governor Janet Napolitano’s plan for a 2-1-1 help line, Williams said. I&R is on Napolitano’s 2-1-1 Information Network Committee.

    If the organization closed, the responsibilities of 2-1-1 will go completely to Maricopa County, which would likely be overburdened by the increased number of calls it would take, she said.

    The Information and Referral Line helps more than 100,000 people each year with hundreds of resources, Williams said.

    “”It would present a road-block for 2-1-1 by phone,”” said DJ Harper, communications manager for the State of Arizona Government Information Technology Agency. “”We believe that Tucson I&R is a very valuable service to the state.””

    The UA has a help line for employees and a help line for students; however, neither hotline is open 24 hours a day like the one Tucson I&R and Maricopa County oversee, Williams said.

    Edward Coderre is a call supervisor for Tucson I&R. He called the organization when he was first diagnosed with AIDS and members there were able to “”calm me down.””

    Coderre said they were able to refer him to support groups and find him a job after he was out of work for nine months.

    Now, he said, “”I help people who are even suicidal.””

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