How a Prescott shelter turned this woman’s life around—and helped many others find housing

front of Prescott area shelter services house

The front of a house at Prescott Area Shelter Services (Photo courtesy Prescott Area Shelter Services)

By Alyssa Bickle

June 7, 2024

PASS has served over 3,000 women and children since opening in 2009, and over 78% of the organization’s guests transition into permanent housing.

Jessy Billups and her husband were evicted last December after she suffered acute kidney failure and her husband was in a car accident, which prevented the couple from working.

They lived without permanent shelter in a tent in the woods for a few months before contacting shelters when the area became too cold to survive in.

Billups arrived at Prescott Area Shelter Services (PASS) in February, and she is now part of the transitional housing program, where she lives with a few roommates. Her husband is staying in a different facility.

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“I was scared. I didn’t know my surroundings or anything, but the ladies, even the volunteers, … just made [me] feel at home,” Billups said. “I was terrified when I walked through that door with the three bags I had.”

Billups’ health coverage was nearly canceled because she did not have an address after an eviction, but she was able to use the shelter’s address to regain her eligibility and access to health care.

Less than a month after Billups entered the shelter, she was medically cleared to return to work, and she found a job soon after.

 

Starting from scratch

In Prescott, people without shelter can be an invisible population, as they are rarely seen on street corners asking for help. Instead, people live in their cars, couchsurf, or stay in otherwise bad or dangerous conditions, said Carmen Frederic, PASS’ executive director.

Before PASS, Prescott did not have a women’s shelter, so the local community came together in 2007 and put together a “trial run” shelter in the basement of a church, where they served 34 women and seven children over the course of several months. The group moved to their current location in 2009.

The shelter now offers 19 beds in a main dormitory, with five additional beds above the community room for moms with boys 12 and older.

How a Prescott shelter turned this woman's life around—and helped many others find housing

(Photo courtesy of Prescott Area Shelter Services)

Today, the facility can serve up to 28 people at one time, with 19 in the dorm area and the rest in additional bedrooms and buildings.

PASS also offers transitional housing, where Billups currently lives, for up to two years. This is available to residents who can still pay a portion of the rent, but have barriers in gaining their own independent housing.

The guests rent the transitional housing unit at a lower cost, with no background check or deposit. By staying there, they gain a landlord reference for when they go looking for housing on their own, Frederic said.

The transitional housing is not solely for women and children. Men and full families are also able to rent the spaces as it is private, not dormitory-style housing, emergency case manager Danielle Hollinger said.

Many guests make their way to PASS from Phoenix, where they face shelters at full capacity, Hollinger said. But about half of the guests are 55 or older and local to the area, displaced due to a medical condition or their landlord selling the place they were renting.

The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Prescott is $1,500, according to Zillow.

 

Working toward the future

Each new guest completes a screening process before moving into PASS. The shelter is sober living, and if a guest is unable to care for themselves or has debilitating mental health barriers, the staff helps them find a facility better equipped to help, Hollinger said.

The people who do move in receive basic living necessities and a hot dinner every evening, along with case management.

Guests have a week to settle in. They then meet with a case manager once a week, setting a housing goal and two self-led goals, which the case manager assists them with and follows up on, Hollinger said.

And most of them succeed. PASS has served 3,166 women and children since opening its building in February 2009, and over 78% of the organization’s guests transition into permanent housing.

They also gain a community along the way. Staying at PASS is like living with a family unit—it’s about respecting each other and respecting the staff and the volunteers, Hollinger said.

Billups never thought she would be living in a household with more than 10 other women, which requires a lot of patience, she said—but it creates a bond.

 

The role of volunteers and donations

Since PASS began, the nonprofit hasn’t received any state or federal funding. Instead, it relies on community members, private donors, and grants from foundations and businesses to serve their guests.

It also relies on volunteers to help with various duties.

Kristine Dutton is a volunteer evening advocate at PASS, where she started as a meal provider. Now she works one night a week for about four hours supporting guests in any way she can.

“I actually had a time in my life where I needed support and resources, so I’m blessed now to be lucky enough to be in a good place and have a comfortable life and can help others,” Dutton said. “I was a single mom at a very young age and I remember those years of struggling on my own.”

Meal providers, whether they be community members or churches, bring dinner for the guests almost every single night—about 25 days out of the month, Dutton said.

“I see these women as a very important part of our community, to me. They are my community, and everybody needs help sometimes,” Dutton said. “It’s not just a place to sleep—it’s a safe place for them.”

On top of the evening advocates, PASS has volunteers who stay overnight to assist guests, and those who do morning shifts to answer phones and the door.

“We pretty much run based off of volunteers,” Hollinger said. “It’s fantastic … I’ve never seen anything like it.”

 

More than just housing

PASS also offers a Wheels to Work Program that provides transportation to guests through bus, cab or gas vouchers, which Billups has used to get to the emergency room and back by cab.

“When you have that support behind you, it pushes you forward to do what you need to and do what you want to do,” Billups said.

The guests also have access to employment education services, dental care if they are not already covered, and childcare.

“My goal when they leave the shelter is that they’re strong, independent women and know that they can do it when they get out on their own,” Hollinger said.

 

Author

  • Alyssa Bickle

    Alyssa Bickle is a multimedia reporter for The Copper Courier. She graduated from ASU's Walter Cronkite School in May 2024 with degrees in journalism and political science and a minor in urban and metropolitan studies. She has reported for Cronkite News and The State Press.

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