Ending homelessness in Flagstaff isn’t just possible, it’s very close to becoming a reality. If you’ve ever wondered “How can I help people in northern Arizona?” consider these easy ways to help put families into homes with little cost or effort on your part.
Helping out doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost anything at all; while you’re out shopping for the holidays or decluttering as part of your New Year’s resolutions, there are some very easy ways to give back during the holidays.
From donating last season’s clothes to claiming Arizona’s dollar-for-dollar tax credit to simply selecting “Flagstaff Shelter Services” as your Amazon Smile charity of choice, there are plenty of ways to help in Flagstaff that won’t cost you a dime.
Donate clothes, furniture and used housing supplies in Flagstaff
Everyone has extra stuff to get rid of when it comes time to organize and declutter the house. Flagstaff Shelter Services wants your stuff: new, used and everything in between. We don’t sell it – we use it.
On average, we move two families a week into permanent housing. That’s two complete homes that have to be set up and furnished every single week. For that, we need mattresses, bed frames, cribs, sofas, tables, lamps, silverware, dishes, trash cans, shower curtains … all the items you would need if you were moving into a new home. The items don’t have to be new; they just have to be in reasonably good condition.
Unlike thrift stores and most other charities, we take the one thing that’s hardest to get rid of: your mattress. If you’ve ever tried to make a mattress donation in Flagstaff, you know there aren’t many places that will take your used mattress and box springs. But Flagstaff Shelter Services is more than happy to take both. And while you’re dropping them off, bring the rest of your unneeded furniture and household items too.
Furniture donations in Flagstaff are sometimes tricky but we make it easy at the shelter — we’ve got a parking lot, plus plenty of on-street parking, we don’t require an appointment and we don’t turn anything down. The front door is always open during business hours and the front desk is manned around the clock. Even after hours, you can just call in to have the doors opened. And during business hours or after, if you let us know you’re on the way, we’ll send someone out to unload your vehicle for you.
One of the most common questions we get is “Can I donate clothes to a homeless shelter?” Of course you can! People experiencing homelessness always need extra clothes – especially warm clothes for the winter and socks at any time of year. So if you’re wondering where to donate clothes in Flagstaff, please bring them to us!
Stop by on your way home from the store
If you’re willing to spend a few dollars to help people experiencing homelessness, the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a package of toilet paper for us.
We need other groceries and household items too, of course. On any given night, there could be 150-175 people in our shelter and they all need a hot meal, clean sheets, a shower and appropriate clothing to see them through the next day. That’s a lot of laundry detergent, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, trash bags, socks and toilet paper, but toilet paper is our single biggest consumable item.
Think about how much toilet paper your household goes through in a week. Now multiply that by 150 – that’s how much toilet paper we need every week. It’s a huge cost to us and it’s not something we‘re given in corporate donations or grants. It’s not exciting; there’s no “5K Toilet Paper Charity Run,” but it’s necessary.
A 12-pack of toilet paper costs about $5. If 15 people each threw a pack into their cart while they were grocery shopping and dropped it off at the shelter next time they were in the neighborhood, we’d be set for the whole week.
Volunteer at Flagstaff Shelter Services
If you’re looking for another free way to help – and to get in your community service hours for your job or school, FSS is one of the best places to volunteer in Flagstaff. We always need volunteers and we’ve got all kinds of ways that an individual, a family or a team of friends and colleagues can spend a couple of hours helping their neighbors in Flagstaff.
Flagstaff Shelter Services has two different types of clients and two different types of shelter services.
First, we offer overnight shelter to anyone in crisis. We take in people regardless of their age, mental health status or sobriety and we give them a hot meal, a place to shower and a clean, safe bed. Clients sometimes come in during the day if they need to wash their clothes or use the computers to apply for jobs or services, but for the most part, they come in after 4:30 each afternoon to spend the night. They’re welcomed, fed, given a place to wash and the opportunity to use the computers and then they are shown to their bed for the night. Their belongings are locked in a trailer out behind the shelter for safe-keeping until the next morning, when they’re fed breakfast before they leave. When the temperature is below freezing, we invite them to stay all day, but usually, the shelter empties out after breakfast at 8.
After everyone’s left for the day, the shelter needs to be cleaned up – sheets have to be washed and beds remade and food has to be prepared for the evening meal after the clients return in the afternoon. It’s a lot of work every day and we need help doing it.
The second clientele we serve is families. Clients with children don’t stay in the shelter. If an adult comes in with children, we transport them all to another site – usually a church or community group that has set up an emergency space for families experiencing homelessness. This emergency shelter for families only lasts for a few days because within a week, we move them into permanent housing of their own.
On average, we place two families a week into permanent housing and the success rate is incredible: 87 percent of the families we place are still permanently housed a year later.
But it takes work. Those household items are usually donated and these have to be sorted, cleaned, stored and then delivered to the new homes. That means we have plenty of volunteer work in Flagstaff for anyone who’s trying to figure out how to help homeless shelters or who just wants to know where to volunteer in Flagstaff.
If you’re already working with another charity, ask if they’re one of our partners – you may be able to help out two organizations at once. For instance, Flagstaff Shelter Services partners with Catholic Charities of Flagstaff to provide an intake and referral program to better assist those experiencing homelessness throughout the Flagstaff area.
In addition to those every-day opportunities, we also need help from time to time in our collection drives that restock our shelves and our closets with everything from pots and pans to hats and gloves and scarves for our clients.
Whatever your availability or interest, please email us about volunteer opportunities in Flagstaff.
Support while you shop
Did you know that you can tell Amazon to make a donation to Flagstaff Shelter Services every time you make a purchase? It’s easy and it doesn’t add to your charge. Instead of going to Amazon.com, use its mirror site, Amazon Smile (smile.amazon.com) and select Flagstaff Shelter Services as your charity on your account page. Doing so will ensure that every time you make a purchase, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5 percent of the purchase price to us.
You can also choose Flagstaff Shelter Services as your favorite charity in Target Circle. First sign up at circle.target.com/dashboard, then click Community Support. Enter your zip code to select a region of nonprofits and select the Milton Road Target as your store. Every time you shop at Target, or at Target online, you get votes to cast for nonprofits in your region. Give your votes to Flagstaff Shelter Services! It’s another way to help us without costing you anything.
Claim the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit
In Arizona, you can donate money without actually giving up any money. The Arizona dollar for dollar tax program repays you, dollar for dollar, on the money you donate to qualifying charitable organizations – including Flagstaff Shelter Services.
If you donate $400 to a qualifying state charity, the state of Arizona takes that $400 off your final state tax bill. That means if your state tax bill for the year is $500 but you donated $400 to Flagstaff Shelter Services, you will only have to pay $100 in Arizona state tax. If your state tax bill for the year is $500 and you didn’t donate any money to charity, you will have to pay $500 in Arizona state tax. Either way, your wallet is $500 lighter but if you donated the money, you got to decide for yourself where most of it goes.
It’s a huge win for us and it doesn’t cost you anything, since you’d otherwise be paying that same amount of money in taxes.
The tax credit is the absolute easiest way to make a huge impact without paying a dime. Simply make a donation, receive a thank-you note with our five-digit code and then enter the amount and the code on your Arizona taxes. You’ll get the money back from the state when you file your taxes.
Every bit helps
Whether it’s with time, money or a click of the mouse, every bit helps Flagstaff Shelter Services continue its mission to end homelessness in Flagstaff. Every dollar, every mattress, every pair of gloves counts, so please give what you can to move our friends and neighbors out of homelessness.
Ross Altenbaugh is the executive director at Flagstaff Shelter Services, the largest emergency shelter in northern Arizona. The nonprofit is open around the clock to anyone in crisis, regardless of faith, mental health or sobriety. In addition to offering emergency shelter for individuals, the organization also provides permanent, stable housing to families experiencing homelessness. An average of two families a week are moved into permanent housing and more than 85 percent of them do not return to homelessness.