|National Bank of Arizona||A New Leaf||$960,000 in AHP Grants|
|Raza Development Fund||A New Leaf||$300,000 AHP Grant|
Hope, change, and new beginnings: at A New Leaf’s La Mesita campus in Mesa, Arizona, families and individuals find the shelter, safety, resources, and support they need to gain or regain their independence.
"Honestly, I think this saved our lives," says Kate Robinson. "We have a stable place for our kids, they’ve helped us find jobs - everything you can imagine, they’ve helped us with."
Kate and fiancée Khalifa Brown, with five children between them, met at a Phoenix homeless shelter. Both had been bouncing around for a long time, staying temporarily with family or friends, struggling to overcome trauma and addiction. Now they are about to renew a lease on the four-bedroom apartment they share with Kate’s eight-year-old Hope and six-year-old CJ and with Kahlifa’s six-year-old Jeremiah, three-year-old Jordan, and two-year-old Jahlanie.
"We were in a bad spot," Khalifa says, as the time limit for transitional housing provided by the Phoenix agency approached and the couple was faced with the seemingly impossible challenge of finding an affordable home for the newly formed family of seven. Qualifying for voucher-based housing at La Mesita Apartments, a brand new development designed to offer a long-term solution to chronic homelessness, along with affordable housing for low-income renters, seemed like a miracle.
La Mesita Apartments exemplifies A New Leaf’s comprehensive approach to "helping families, changing lives." With a 44-year history rooted in behavioral health, substance abuse treatment, and juvenile services, the nonprofit began to acquire other social service organizations, many with shelter components. According to Shay Meinzer, Director of Real Estate Services, after running shelters for several years, the organization recognized that beyond emergency shelter there was a significant need for permanent supportive housing solutions, so the future of the organization needed to include a very strong housing line of business.
The La Mesita campus started out as a 1940s motor lodge re-purposed as a shelter for homeless families. When the need for repairs became overwhelming, A New Leaf came up with an ambitious plan to demolish the old buildings and start anew, partnering with developer Native American Connections, Inc., on a three-phase, transit-oriented, LEED Platinum-certified, urban infill project. When complete, the campus will feature an emergency shelter with 16 family-size units, 30 units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and families with special needs that require more intensive or longer-term services, and 80 units, ranging from studios to 4-bedroom apartments, for low- and very low-income households.
The project received three AHP grants totaling $1.26 million through two Bank members, National Bank of Arizona and Raza Development Fund. "We are deeply grateful to the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco for supporting the construction of La Mesita Apartments," says Michael Hughes, Chief Executive Officer of A New Leaf. "Our residents come from difficult backgrounds - domestic violence, homelessness, poverty - and it is a wonder to see their lives transformed at La Mesita, which is a true hub connecting residents to each other and to our programs and services."
Key to offering a long-term solution to homelessness, and to helping low-income households that may be one paycheck away from homelessness stay in housing, is A New Leaf’s integrated approach to supportive services. "It has evolved into a continuum of care," says Laura Bode, A New Leaf’s Development Director. "We do a lot of things and keep adding more services, but they all connect."
The campus includes a Head-Start daycare center, community room and gym, counseling center, and office space to provide services that foster self-sufficiency: case management, legal aid, counseling for domestic violence survivors, and art and pet therapy to help children overcome behavioral issues. "There are so many resources," Khalifa says. "The after-school program is amazing." For adults, courses in financial literacy are available, and a workforce development coach is onsite to help residents create resumes and learn basic computer skills to search and apply for jobs online. Staff can also connect them with training opportunities and with tutoring for the GED.
Resident Doug Laird, 53, worked with the job coach to develop a resume he can use to seek opportunities to apply his skill set to new industries. Doug has struggled with depression and addiction. After a successful banking career collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis, he came out to Arizona from Nebraska. "I kind of fell from the executive suite like a bag of wet cement," he shares. "Last year was pretty crazy, I think I had seven different living places, including the street."
Then he landed at the East Valley Men’s Center, also managed by A New Leaf, and from there was guided to apply for place at La Mesita. After living in a 5x7-foot space with 4-foot walls and 95 other men at the center, he’s grateful to have a small efficiency studio all to himself. And he’s glad to have an opportunity to give back while earning a little money picking up around the grounds.
"I’m looking for something full-time and permanent," Doug says. "For all this place has done for me, I would do this job without pay. I’m very grateful and proud to be here." But the $8 per hour he’s making is critical right now, since he’s been deferred for eight weeks from earning money through plasma donations, and food stamps won’t cover some of the basic necessities. Doug knows it’s going to be a long haul, but feels the economy may be picking up and his employment prospects improving. In the meantime, he says, "It’s good to get out the door and feel productive."
Kate is currently working at a call center and Khalifa at the Circle K, as they prioritize a schedule that allows for caring for small children. The couple is making plans, though, to take turns studying for better opportunities while juggling work and family. Kahlifa’s initial goal will be to finish her GED, while Kate has her eye on an X-ray technician course at the local community college.
In the meantime, for Kate, Khalifa, Doug, and all the other residents of La Mesita, safe, affordable, supportive housing is the first-step on the journey to self-sufficiency. As Kate explains, "To know you have somewhere to come home to every night and you don’t have to worry about anything, it’s such a blessing."