Tim Steller, columnist at the Arizona Daily Star.


These places are a far cry from the run-down trailers desperate people can rent around Tucson.

They’re tons better than a bunk in a shelter.

And of course, they easily beat sleeping in a wash or inside a pallet frame.

This morning at 10 a.m., the Amity Foundation is holding a grand opening for its new Dragonfly Village development, at 10496 E. Tanque Verde Road, just east of the Agua Caliente wash. It’s a new 30-unit complex of apartments in a dozen different smaller buildings with a big community center in the middle.

When full — which should be pretty much all the time, considering the need — the apartments will likely house about 100 people at a time, said Ray Clarke, board president of the village and vice president of the foundation. The residents could vary from single parents with children to older homeless people who’ve been on the streets for years.

The project’s $5.3 million cost has been funded so far by grants from government agencies and foundations as well as individual donations, but it’s still about $500,000 short. Donations can be made at this website: www.gofundme.com/dfvillage

As Clarke guided me around the 4.5-acre property, next to the Amity Foundation’s Circle Tree Ranch, we wore white plastic bags on our feet to protect from the construction-zone mud. Employees carried mattresses and tables from one building to another to homes arranged in inward-facing circles, with open porches, to create a sense of community.

“The environment is important, too, because you have people who live very chaotic lives,” Clarke said. “It’s almost like a retreat, a safe place.”

The design of the place was deliberate, said Robin Rettmer and Naya Arbiter, two Amity vice presidents who were buzzing around the property after the rain Thursday, preparing for today’s event, which is open to the public. The design allows residents to easily interact with each other and to access services and meals at the community center.

The idea, Arbiter said: “Why don’t we make an effort to provide housing where people can have a sense of dignity?”

The apartments will be rented on a 12-month initial lease, with the option of extending the lease for two additional six-month periods. Within that two-year period, residents are expected to transition out to independent living. The amount of rent they pay will be on a sliding scale, Clarke said.

Dragonfly Village won’t be for every homeless person, though. It’s a bit isolated, as far out as it is on the northeast side, though transportation will be provided to destinations or to bus lines.

Village rules prohibit any alcohol or smoking — even legal substances. They also prohibit cars and pets, key companions to many homeless people. And residents will go through an application process that will filter out some.

The process means people without identification — a subset of the homeless population that has a lot of trouble finding shelter — would not get in at Dragonfly. Homeless advocate Michele Ream introduced me this summer to a septuagenarian named Richard Richards who has been living for months in a pallet shelter near the Tucson Greyhound station downtown.

Despite her efforts, and in part due to his apparent dementia, Richards still doesn’t have ID he can use to get shelter. That keeps him from getting into pretty much all available housing options.

So without a doubt, Dragonfly Village provides a fantastic new option in Tucson and will likely make a dent in our local population of people without homes. But it won’t end Pima County’s need to provide the sort of simple, cheap shelters that places like Utah and Portland, Oregon, are already offering under the “housing first” theory that providing good shelter removes the biggest obstacle to independence.