By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
CASS shut down its outdoor campground in 1990, she says, because the agency didn't have enough money to operate it. About 200 people per night had been allowed to camp there.
As recently as last month, says Orton, the board discussed reopening the outdoor area. One plan was to build a small shelter on the lot behind CASS. But the board decided that expanding CASS' programs for families was a higher priority.
Orton says she doesn't want to spend the reserve fund to reopen the outdoor area until she has enough money coming in every year to keep it going.
Another reason the overall numbers have declined, says Orton, is that residents are staying longer. Part of CASS' plan is to provide regular shelter to people who are working on what such agencies call case plans" to find jobs and become self-sufficient.
But Stark contends that CASS wants to help only those deemed to be the deserving poor."
For example, she points out that CASS opened a small family shelter last year. To do so, the shelter cut back on space available for single people. That's despite the fact that a handful of other agencies operate family shelters, and CASS' 400 beds are the only year-round shelter available for single men and women.
In the public perception, of all the people who are the most deserving, it's families with little children," Stark says. So they decided to start housing families. Many of us felt the only reason why they did so was so they could put children in front of the cameras."
Now CASS features families in its advertising for donations, even though families are the smallest portion of its residents, Stark says.
Orton says CASS is focusing on families because the agency believes more families are becoming homeless. We turn away families every day," Orton says.
Stark notes that CASS was created just to provide housing. Other agencies had offices in the building to offer counseling and employment programs.
Little by little, what has happened is Mary has gotten the money from those agencies and added them to her budget," Stark says. The shelter was sort of a multiservice center. It's obviously very different now, sort of an exclusive club."
Orton scoffs at that. Exclusive club? That is going too far. When you say `club,' I think of Club Med."
Orton says her agency is simply trying to get people off the streets and back into the mainstream.
We never served all the people on the street," Orton says. That was not our mission. We don't only work with people who are going to be successes. But we do only take people who are willing to work with a case plan. Since we operate with so much government funding, that's necessary."
The shelter wasn't designed to house all the homeless people in the city or county. Police estimate that there are as many people sleeping outside, in the square mile around CASS, as there are housed inside the shelter.
The shelter has always been under pressure from property owners in the area to limit services, in hopes that fewer transients would hang around the neighborhood. Two years ago, CASS agreed to limit services to people who were actually staying at the shelter in hopes of appeasing neighbors, as well as meeting city zoning regulations.
Last November, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the city's transient and inebriate" zoning ordinance. The city created the zone ten years ago to prevent a concentration of services to the homeless.
Now that the zoning ordinance has been overturned, CASS could offer services to everyone again and reopen the outdoor campground, Orton says. But she says there isn't enough money to keep the programs going.
Besides, she says, she won't go back on promises to the neighborhood.
Bonnie Towles, a resident who has been a leader in the neighborhood's zoning fight against CASS, says she's grateful for those promises. Sort of. I am happier" since CASS closed its outdoor area, she says. But everything is relative. The fact is, the damage is done. It has ruined me and many other people in the neighborhood."
MARY ORTON IS the best thing that has happened to the homeless in the Valley," says CASS board member Mike Bielecki, president of Arizona's firefighters' union. I don't care if she's got to go through 75 managers a month. I'm absolutely sold on her."
Some board members say they blame burnout" for the agency's high staff-turnover rate. Yet some former employees say they didn't quit because they were tired of working with homeless people. Orton was the reason, they say.
Nothing was good enough for Mary," says Susan Wedl, who quit CASS in 1988 and is now supervisor of bereavement and volunteer programs at Cigna Home Health Care.
Wedl says she quit when Orton demanded that she work during her vacation. She just used up people until they had no more," Wedl says. I just didn't have any more to give."
Four former top managers at CASS echo that sentiment. None of the four would agree to be mentioned by name, because they work for other social-service agencies and fear losing their jobs. The wrath of Mary Orton is pretty severe," says one of the former managers. By talking to you, I'm worried."