KINGMAN - A social services agency has opened up a new location in Mohave County with the goal of reducing homelessness, especially among those with severe mental illnesses.
Catholic Charities, which already operated in Arizona, established an office in Bullhead City as part of a federal program known as PATH - Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness.
"We've been in Coconino and Yavapai counties for a few years," said Darrel V. Reynolds, senior program supervisor for PATH Outreach in those counties as well as Mohave County.
"We provide basic need items, hygiene stuff, sleeping bags, blankets, tents, tarps. The biggest thing over here is going to be the hydration issues. When we find camps, we provide water. We try to help them with their garbage issue."
After basic needs are addressed, the real work begins.
"Once we develop a relationship with them and they trust us, we make referrals, we help them get employment opportunities through different agencies, we connect them any way we can to any of the agencies or services that provide the next step, because a lot of them don't know who to turn to," he said. "We're the first step of a process. We get a lot of people who've just given up.
"They do a day-to-day survival thing. We give them hope."
At least, they try to give hope to those who are interested: "We also have some people that that's what they want to do. They want to be out there on their own. They don't want to make changes."
The actual number of homeless in Mohave County is hard to pin down, but homelessness exists and a recent survey located more than had been found in the past, Reynolds said.
"We just finished our point-in-time survey," he said, in which volunteers fan out and document as many homeless as they can find. "They say that the numbers that came out of this count were considerably higher than they were in previous years."
One reason for that, he added, is that surveyors covered a wider area, including locations outside of Mohave County's cities. "It's nowhere near the actual number. We'd have to have a complete canvas of Mohave, which would be nearly impossible to do."
The Bullhead City office, which is meant to cover all of Mohave County, has two staffers and is anticipated to enroll 30-50 homeless people with severe mental health issues this year. Another 200-300 will be contacted for possible referrals.
Catholic Charities works with Mohave Mental Health, Southwest Behavioral Health, veterans programs, area hospitals, churches, law enforcement and even a motorcycle club to address these needs.
Volunteers are welcome; go to www.catholiccharitiesaz.org for more information.
An immediate goal, Reynolds said, is to set up a coalition of agencies that feed the homeless for better coordination, so that "the homeless don't get six meals one day and nothing for two or three days."
But there's also a longer-term effort.
"Homelessness has a bad name," he said. "We've had problems with people who say, 'We don't have homeless in this area.' They turn a deaf ear and a blind eye. Right now, it's increasing, not decreasing. Once we get the communities to see this, we can work on it so it's declining."