Open Inn, which finds shelter for homeless Tucson youths, is closing

2014-03-04T00:00:00Z Open Inn, which finds shelter for homeless Tucson youths, is closingBy Patty Machelor Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Open Inn, an Arizona organization providing services and crisis shelter to Tucson’s homeless youths and families, is closing after 40 years.

The announcement falls as the need for services continues to rise here. One in 3 Tucson youths under the age of 18 lives in poverty. Statewide, the rate is 1 in 4 and nationwide, it’s 1 in 5.

In a prepared statement provided by Open Inn’s interim executive director, Kim Tellez, the nonprofit’s board of directors announced “with deep regret” that it is beginning to close down operations.

“The board and staff have worked tirelessly over the past several years to maintain service levels and resolve financial burdens that have plagued the agency,” the statement reads. “Attempts by Open Inn to work with at least two established nonprofits in the community, who we hoped would provide a lifeline through merger or acquisition, were unsuccessful.”

Tellez declined to comment further, leaving it unclear to which agencies the board is referring  in its statement. It also is unclear whether this shutdown will be statewide.

Open Inn currently operates short-term crisis shelters in Tucson and, according to the agency’s website, serves about 12,000 runaway, homeless and at-risk youths and families in seven Arizona counties annually.

The organization’s online federal financial reports show the latest filings were completed in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, with $2.8 million in revenues and $2.9 million in expenses.

It is unclear how many people receive services locally from Open Inn, but as of last April, referrals to a similar Tucson organization, Youth on Their Own, were up 60 percent.

Dane Binder, program director with Youth on Their Own, was not aware that Open Inn was in jeopardy. He said the number of homeless youths in the community continues to rise.

As the government cut cash assistance, federal grant money and child-support subsidies, safety nets for Tucson’s families became scarce or nonexistent.

Finding housing is the most challenging task for agencies like Youth on Their Own, which helps homeless youths stay in school. Binder said, for example, that the agency recently helped a teenage girl who had been living in foster care and, after turning 18, didn’t have anywhere to live. It took about 10 days to find shelter for her, he said, and the agency was eventually able to set her up in an apartment, all with the help of Open Inn.

“They served a very important need,” he said of Open Inn. “It’s very disappointing to hear that they are not going to be around anymore.”

Open Inn is continuing its services for now, according to the prepared statement, and will attempt to save aspects of its programs by shifting resources to other community agencies.

Open Inn and Our Family Services have been working together since the 1970s to provide help for homeless youths, said Patti Caldwell, executive director of Our Family Services.

“It’s been a very effective partnership,” Caldwell said. “In our conversations with the staff from Open Inn, we’ve offered to do everything we can to help ensure a continuum of services and programs for the young people they are currently serving.”

However, this will be difficult, she said, as both organizations are consistently full.

“Our resources will be challenged to keep up with the need,” she said. “It’s always sad when a well-established nonprofit that has been providing important services has to close its doors, and I think it illustrates how incredibly difficult it is to run a small business or nonprofit organization in our community.”

Mary Anne Nelson, the probation unit supervisor at the Pima County Juvenile Court Center, said Open Inn has been “an extremely important resource to us.”

Young people who come through the courts and need crisis shelter and respite have been helped consistently by Open Inn, she said.

“We can only hope that there would be another community agency to provide these services,” she said. “I’ve been at this court for 25½ years, and they’ve been around for the whole time I’ve been here.”

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelo@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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