Pima County seeks to redirect $100K/mo in Stonegarden funds to migrant shelter
Project blasted as 'white saviorism' while drawing backing from Republican sheriff
Pima County is asking that more than a half-million dollars in Operation Stonegarden money be directed toward humanitarian aid for asylum-seekers who have been released by the federal government. Those funds would cover the county's operating costs for a shelter for migrants through the end of the year.
With the county planning on converting a vacant section of the Juvenile Detention Center into a shelter for migrants — mostly Central American families seeking asylum in the United States, who have legal status in this country — officials have requested a modification to the federal grant for border and immigration enforcement efforts approved earlier this year. Those changes — affecting nearly half of the total Stonegarden grant — will require approval from both state and federal officials.
Because the current shelter, being operated at a former monastery by a nonprofit Catholic social service agency, must close its doors early next month, a new location is necessary, officials said.
The proposal to use part of the county-owned complex has drawn fire from border-rights activists and others — enough to at least temporarily stall the project last week — over "optics" and the location in an "active detention center." Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, a Republican, said he'd back the project "even if it all came out of overtime" for his deputies.
The county's portion of the cost to operate the new shelter will be about $94,500 each month, with another $57,000 to be spent modifying the facility before it begins operating, according to a document drafted by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. The total for the final five months of this year would be $530,000.
The county's bill for the shelter and other border aid programs could reach $1.5 million next year, with officials looking at tapping other grants.
The Board of Supervisors accepted $1.2 million in funding for the Sheriff's Department from the controversial Stonegarden program in May, specifying that $200,000 of it must be directed to humanitarian efforts here. County leaders also conditioned accepting the grant on the maximum level of "indirect costs" allowed under the grant being spent on aiding asylum-seekers.
That slice was 28.58 percent, or $330,000.
Document: Pima County request to direct Stonegarden funds to migrant shelter
Huckelberry submitted a request to modify the grant to "forgo the indirect cost recovery this award year," noting that the Arizona Department of Homeland Security told the county that paying for such costs "will be difficult to operationalize with only five months remaining" in the grant period.
The county will instead "seek to apply" that portion of the grant to humanitarian aid, Huckelberry wrote, for a total amount of $530,347.
The Stonegarden money would cover shelter operations through the end of the year. Huckelberry said that the county is applying for $1.5 million to run the shelter next year from a $30 million program of border humanitarian aid grants just being set up by the federal government.
The bulk of Operation Stonegarden funds, which have yet to be disbursed under this grant, are provided by the federal government to subsidize overtime pay for deputies who are coordinating with Border Patrol and other federal agencies on border enforcement patrols. Huckelberry noted in his change request that "if this request is approved, the Pima County sheriff will still receive the same overtime allocation approved by the Board. Furthermore, no overtime funding is authorized for the sheriff until the humanitarian aid request is fully approved."
Sheriff Napier: Backs plan 'even if it all came out of overtime'
Sheriff Mark Napier said Tuesday that he supports the plan to transform part of the juvenile center into a shelter.
"We have an affirmative responsibility to provide care for these people, as they transition through our community," he said.
"They're not here illegally; they have legal status in this country pending their asylum hearings," said the Republican sheriff.
Both Huckelberry and Napier pointed to public safety as well as moral issues prompting the shelter plan.
"If we turn these people out onto the street, they'll either turn to criminal activity out of necessity or become victims of crime themselves," Napier told TucsonSentinel.com.
The county administrator wrote to state officials that "if asylum-seekers are simply released to our local streets, the resulting chaos will certainly endanger them as well as the community."
Napier did express concerns that the expanded request for humanitarian funding from Stonegarden might cause the feds to think twice about approving future requests under the program. He said his department has asked for "closer to $2 million" in the next round of Stonegarden grants, with much of the increase meant to fund stationing a PCSD airplane at the Ajo airport.
He also expressed concerns that the shift in the allocated funds is not assured.
The county has "significantly escalated the amount of humanitarian aid I agreed to," Napier said. "But there are costs being borne by Pima County that our federal partners aren't funding. We have an immediate humanitarian responsibility."
"Our NGOs and nonprofits are all stressed to the max," he said.
"It all depends on how that reallocation is pursued," but the sheriff said he'd support funding the shelter for the moment "even if it all came out of overtime."
Shelter still drawing criticism
The plan to use the vacant wing of the detention center has drawn fervent opposition from some on the Left as well as the Right.
Tiera Rainey, a program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, has been outspoken about the proposal, even after it re-gained support from a key Democratic county supervisor this weekend.
The concept is a product of a "rampant white savior industrial complex," said Rainey, who is African American.
"It shouldn't be lost on anyone that an active detention center was proposed as the best option for a migrant shelter," she wrote on Facebook. "That's right, non-impacted people want to sign on the dotted line to subject already traumatized brown and black people to yet another institutional and surveilled setting. Any critique of this poorly conceived plan is met with fuming rage because there is never space for nuance in the world of the white savior. They are always the good guys...any harms they are committing are absolved by their noble intentions."
Rainey, who launched an online petition opposing the project outside her work for AFSC, wrote that "too often the oppressed are told to quiet down and wait our turn for the decency we deserve. We're also told that those who seek to harm us are only those who walk around with white hoods or tiki torches. However, I'm here to tell you that the performative allyship of white saviors is also harmful because they're never fighting for us... most especially in the ways that actually matter."
AFSC, a Quaker-associated group, hasn't taken a stance on the issue as an organization, said Caroline Isaacs, the group's program director in Tucson.
Napier, the Republican sheriff, noted that "too many people in my party say, 'just put them on the street.' That's not reasonable. It's not the humane thing to do, and not the safe thing to do. It's not acceptable."
"A lot of Republicans say that they're Christians," Napier said. "That's not the Christian faith that I recognize."
Current shelter closing
For the last several months, Catholic Community Services, supported by an army of volunteers with help from city and county officials, has used the former Benedictine Monastery in Midtown as a waypoint for nearly 10,000 people. Most have been traveling as families — nearly all from three Central American countries — who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, and were then traveling to sponsors in cities across the United States.
Unlike those in the controversial centers — decried by some as "concentration camps" — operated by federal agencies like Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others, the migrants at the Casa Alitas shelter are not being detained; they've already been reviewed and released by the feds. CCS doesn't separate children from their families in the shelter operated by the nonprofit group. Most of the asylum-seekers stay for just a day or two, and then travel to stay with relatives or other sponsors as their asylum cases are processed.
The migrants all have legal status in the United States while their cases are ongoing.
The owner of the monastery plans to re-develop the historic building on North Country Club Road, and has asked CCS to vacate the property by August 6, said Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for CCS.
With the deadline to move the shelter approaching, city and county officials began seeking out a new location for the agency to serve migrant families, offering medical triage, food, travel arrangements, and a place to sleep before they travel further.
In recent weeks, city and council officials and the shelter operators settled on the juvenile detention facility, which has the elements necessary to make it a good new shelter, said Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik.
Supes to review shelter plan Monday
At a special meeting on Monday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors will review and potentially approve converting a vacant portion of the juvenile center into a shelter for asylum-seekers who have been released by the federal government.
Pima supervisors to hold special meeting on migrant shelter at juvie center
The meeting, set for 9 a.m. on July 22, was called this Monday morning after a week of controversy saw the project announced, called off, and then put "back on track."
No call to the audience, during which members of the public can voice their opinions on the topic, was included on the initial agenda for the meeting. The only item listed was the agreement for CCS to use the facility as a shelter, but officials added the public call Thursday afternoon after we questioned them, saying it had been an oversight.
The project is back on, after heated debate led officials to order a halt to work for about 24 hours late last week.
At the beginning of last week, county officials announced that they would lease an unused section of the juvenile detention facility, part of the Pima County Juvenile Court Center complex, 2225 E. Ajo Way, to Catholic Community Services. The group would use three units that are vacant and can accommodate up to 300 people, said Huckelberry.
Under the plan, the county will fund some remodeling work and cover utility and upkeep costs while the nonprofit social service group manages the center as a temporary stop for migrants. Backers of the proposal emphasized that the center is "a vacant dorm" and that "this is not a jail" to detain families seeking asylum. The county will seek repayment of some project costs from the federal government.
In addition to the requested shift of Stonegarden funds, Huckelberry told the supervisors Tuesday that the county had also applied for a parallel $530,000 grant from the State Homeland Security Program, at the suggestion of the chief Border Patrol agent in Tucson.
"Any combination of (Stonegarden or state grants) could be used to offset our anticipated costs of operating the shelter" through December, he wrote in a memo.
Monday, the county applied for about $1.5 million from a new humanitarian aid grant program set up just this month after being passed by Congress. That application was for "approximately $1.5 million in funding to offset the operating and modification costs associated with the shelter," he said.
Monday: Pima County to lease juvenile center for stop-over for asylum-seekers
"We're proceeding," Huckelberry told TucsonSentinel.com on Saturday evening. Friday night, he had instructed officials to "stop all work on this project."
Related: County migrant shelter 'back on track' after Elias again supports project
The move to transform a vacant wing of the juvenile center into a Catholic Community Services shelter for hundreds of migrants set off a controversy last week, with activists calling the move a "non-starter," and supporters assailing "second-guessing that undermines the work."
The nonprofit social service agency, which must leave its current site, would operate the Casa Alitas temporary stop-over for asylum-seekers who have been released from federal custody.
Some immigration activists, and Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías and TUSD Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva, had objected to the plan. Some opponents argued that idea was "poorly conceived," and would prop up a "dying detention center." The migrants should perhaps instead be sheltered at a vacant school, they said.
Elías, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, had initially backed the move, but withdrew his support late in the week. In response, county officials ordered Friday night that all work on the project be stopped. TucsonSentinel.com broke that story Friday.
"We have no alternate plan," the head of CCS's shelter said.
Saturday, Elías told Huckelberry he was back on board, the county administrator told TucsonSentinel.com.
"It's back on," Huckelberry said. "We'll have a lease drafted Monday; we'll send that to the board, and tell them, 'we're ready to go.'"
In a memo, Huckelberry said Monday morning that the meeting was being called after a conversation he had with Elías.
"We'll probably pick (the work on the site) back up... Monday or Tuesday," he said Saturday. "We're back on track to get the asylum-seekers the shelter they deserve."
Revised draft lease for Pima County/CCS migrant shelter
Draft lease for Pima County/CCS migrant shelter
Work at the center will proceed this week, in advance of the supervisors' meeting, officials said. Huckelberry and others noted that the county's expenses for the changes will be under six figures. In a Monday afternoon memo to the supervisors, the county administrator said "minor modifications are necessary" to accommodate CCS's "processing flow" for the migrants. "In addition, other cosmetic modifications with the addition of furniture will be made... enhancing the current spartan environment to one more conducive to a respite and shelter facility," he wrote.
The shelter manager expressed relief Saturday.
"We are grateful to the county, and to Supervisor Elías for continuing to support the work of Casa Alitas," said Cavendish. "We know this a good plan for relocating our large shelter, and we're looking forward to getting into there, and getting our work stated, so that we can really create a warm, welcome and respectful place for our families to arrive."
Elías has not responded to TucsonSentinel.com's requests for comment on the issue.
City and county officials had pushed back this week against critics of the move, saying that the facility was a "vacant dorm," and that instead continuing to look at two schools in the Tucson Unified School District was a "unnecessary fire drill." Meanwhile, Cavendish said that if work didn't begin on the facility soon, planned improvements to keep the building from feeling like a former detention center would not be completed before the group had to move in. The Casa Alitas staffer said opponents of the move hadn't consulted with the operators of the migrant shelter, and that "second-guessing" could "undermine the work that we're doing."
Friday night, Huckelberry instructed officials to "stop all work on this project."
"Given Supervisor Elías' opposition it is not viable at this point," he wrote, referring to "the usual nonsense" in another part of an email exchange.
Earlier: County stops work after clash over migrant shelter at vacant Pima juvenile center
Huckelberry wrote that he ordered work to halt until after the Board of Supervisors meets on August 6 to review the plan. "This will delay their use until September and if not approved they will not be able to use the facility," he said.
Two other members of the county board, Supervisors Sharon Bronson and Ramon Valadez, told TucsonSentinel.com that they'd like to see Elías call a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors before that date, to review the plan.
"If we want to move forward, we should have a special meeting," said Bronson, a Democrat who declined to indicate if she'd vote to approve the lease.
Valadez, also a Democrat, continued to be supportive of the proposal.
"I think we should have a special meeting to get it taken care of and move ahead and make it very clear," he said.
It's not known if the other two members of the board, Supervisors Steve Christy and Ally Miller — both Republicans — will support the project. It was losing a key likely third vote from Elías , part of the Democratic majority on the board, that made continuing work before a formal vote untenable for Huckelberry.
Center meets 'pretty rigid' requirements for migrant shelter
"We’ve been looking since this January," Kozachik said, and while a team reviewed several different potential facilities, including a vacant school owned by the Tucson Unified School District, they found that the juvenile detention facility met a "pretty rigid" set of requirements.
"We need to be able to house 150 to 200 people at a time," Kozachik said Friday, adding that this also included a place with an Internet connection to make travel arrangements and schedules, an area for medical triage, a kitchen and a serving area as well as a place for laundry. At the monastery, volunteers have been taking laundry home, he said.
Kozachik called the objections a "bottom of the ninth effort" driven by people who just "cannot get their heads around" the idea that facility is not part of the juvenile detention center.
Kozachik pushed back against the idea that the two TUSD schools could be used. "No, it's just not going to work." One school is leased by a charter school through at least December, he said, and a plan to spread the organization's effort across a number of volunteer churches won't work because "the operation needs a central intake."
The churches are helpful and can help take overflow, but they're not doing the "front-end work" that's required. "You can’t have 12 intake facilities scattered around town, he said, adding that many of the churches are "not ready" to do the staffing work that CCS is doing.
"There's not a school that brings to the table all the things happening" at the monastery, Kozachik said. "But no one showing up here, after traveling from Guatemala through Mexico will care what the facility was used for," he said. "They feel the compassion from people working on that place," he said. He argued that the facility was a "dormitory."
"Look they're well-intentioned, but we're not incarcerating Guatemalans," he said Friday. "I think people when they see the changes, they’ll be on board," he said, adding that the county was picking up costs for the facility, including maintenance, food prep and laundry costs.
"No one is going to pick up that tab at TUSD," Kozachik said.
The councilman — a Democrat, as is the entire City Council — also warned that without a shelter and agreements with federal officials, the remaining option is "street releases."
"If this falls off the rails," because of objections, "(opponents) own the street release option, if we don't get this facility," he said Friday.
After August 1, CCS will have "just two Midtown houses with a capacity of 20 people" after the monastery shelter closes, he said Saturday.
"Huckelberry said earlier Friday that the county could only spend money on county-owned facilities, so that immediately excludes TUSD buildings," he said. "And, the facility center was originally a detention center, so what better way than to repurpose it as a basic shelter?"
Monday, county staff said that successful programs that offer alternatives to detaining youth offenders have led to the center holding a daily population far less than capacity. The design of the facility means that those youth who are being held — an average of 30-50 at one time — will be kept entirely separate from the empty portion of the center set to be used by migrant families. Backers of the proposal pointed out that the move will enable much more privacy for families, who will be able to use separate rooms rather than, as has been the case at the monastery, all of the migrants sleeping in one large hall.
"We've been grateful to have the Benedictine Monastery," Valadez said, "but it's falling apart on them. And there's been absolutely no privacy whatsoever. And the plumbing isn't working; they're using port-a-potties."
'Unnecessary fire drill'
Huckelberry said that learned that two TUSD schools were still being looked at by critics of the move to the county center by "reading the paper."
Two former Tucson Unified School District schools were proposed, including Menlo Park Elementary at 1100 W. Fresno St., and Howenstine Magnet High School, 555 S. Tucson Blvd, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
Led by Supervisor Elías and TUSD's Grijalva, those opposed to the move to the county center said they were now considering the two schools, just weeks before the Board of Supervisors would vote on the proposal to begin leasing the juvenile facility to CCS.
"I understand that one of these schools had been examined by CCS, and it needs a complete remodel to get it up to speed," Huckelberry said, and the other school, Menlo Park Elementary is "leased to a charter-school operator" that plans to start a new school year in just a few weeks.
"This might have been an unnecessary fire drill," Huckelberry told TucsonSentinel.com Friday afternoon.
Huckelberry pushed back on the idea that the facility, with locking doors and institutional plumbing fixtures, would remind families coming to the shelter of Border Patrol or ICE detention facilities. "So do college dorms. ... The people who are coming for two to three days just don’t have any idea that it was anything but a safe, decent and comfortable place with housing and food."
"We’re absolutely open to all alternatives, but the problem is the monastery is falling around everyone’s ears, and it’s not acceptable to be in there much longer," he said.
Friday just after 6 p.m., he ordered county staff to halt work.
"I have stopped all modifications to the facility until August 6," he told staff and other supervisors.
Saturday evening, he had yet to write a memo ordering work to pick back up, but told TucsonSentinel.com that "it's back on."
Prior to the supervisors' voting on the proposed lease, the county's financial outlay will be "fairly minimal," he said.
"Maybe $50,000. We're moving a couple of doors," he said. The revamped center will be "appropriately decorated. No one will ever know it was a detention facility," Huckelberry said.
Monday, Huckelberry wrote to the supervisors that the lease would include food and laundry services for the shelter, in addition to operating and maintenance, "and all costs will be reimbursed through the grant" from Homeland Security that the county will apply for.
"This adaptive reuse of a former detention facility into a shelter for humanitarian aid speaks well of our evolution in juvenile justice," the county administrator wrote. "I look forward to the day we can do the same at our adult jail."
Much of the bill for redecorating the facility will be paid by CCS, and volunteers will help with the work, Kozachik and Valadez said.
"We're taking doors off, laying carpet, taking security cameras down, putting in picnic tables with shade structures outside," said Kozachik.
"This is basically a brand-new center," Valadez said. "It's hardly even been used" because of the shift in handling juvenile cases.
"We're turning a detention center into a sanctuary," he said.
Grijalva: School site could be 'long-term solution'
Elías had co-authored a guest opinion with Rev. Edward J. Weisenburger, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, in support of the plan to move to the county facility, sources said. That was set to be published in the Daily Star this weekend, but then the Democratic county supervisor withdrew his backing Thursday night.
Elías did not respond to requests for comment Friday or Saturday.
Grijalva told TucsonSentinel.com on Friday that TUSD wanted to offer two potential schools to CCS, especially Menlo Park Elementary, on the West Side.
Menlo Park "doesn't need any work," but she said her feeling from staff at CCS was that "unless it checked every single box, it just didn't seem like an option."
The county has offered to cover costs at the juvenile center, and "so anything that's not free, it's just not going to be as attractive."
"The community will welcome housing migrants in Menlo Park, and it solves the problem of having another vacant school," she said Friday. "But it only only works if Catholic Community Services is willing to work through a plan, and that's not something they may be willing to do."
While Menlo Park is currently occupied, the charter school said that it has purchased a new building, and is planning on leaving in December.
"I think if we put our heads together, we could come up with a solution. The county could create a short-term solution, and then we could use Menlo as a long-term solution."
She said that she wished she there had been a "better opportunity" for the community to put together a plan, and "this just didn't happen with input from other groups."
"As much as I appreciate the county's attempt to figure it out on their end, there has to be a willingness to come up with a better long-term solution, and I hope that Menlo Park is the right one," the Democratic school board member said. "Some solutions work for the short-term, but there has to be a willingness to do that."
"Even if we pretty up a detention facility, it's still a detention facility. And, I'm not sure how much can be changed," she said.
After TucsonSentinel.com broke the news Friday that Huckelberry had called off the work, Grijalva said "this makes it seem like I'm picking a fight but I really just wanted to make sure that other options were explored."
"Many called me to say why aren't we using any of the vacant schools," she said. "I just wanted to give the option of a neighborhood school, that is in good condition and just became available. I was not trying to get in the way of anything but simply ensure that other options were available to be looked at."
"Menlo Park literally became available about a week ago," said Grijalva, a Democrat and the president of TUSD's Governing Board. "We wanted to make sure that this facility, which is in great condition, was considered as an option. We also offered Hohokam and the county was exploring upgrading the facility but it was later nixed because of the distance."
"We just found out today that the current tenants aren't leaving until December," she said Friday night. "We were told they gave a two weeks' notice. I don't understand why providing options, and wanting to partner ... is being criticized."
'Second-guessing undermines the work'
"It would be lovely for the folks who had these opinions to talk to us," said Cavendish, from the Catholic social service agency, on Friday. "We learn about what’s happening by reading the newspaper," she said. Cavendish said that she toured Menlo Park Elementary, and that "it's a perfectly lovely building as a school," but "it’s not available till the end of December."
She also said that Howenstine Magnet has a "definite condition problem."
"I cannot imagine it could possible be available to us by August 6," Cavendish told TucsonSentinel.com Friday afternoon. "We've been doing this for five years. We're a nationally respected service, and we're good at it. So, it's frustrating that other groups, who have not done the work at this scale, with the success that Casa Alitas has had, to second-guess and even undermine the work that we're doing."
"Elías said that he supported our move to the county facility" shortly after paying a recent visit to Casa Alitas at the monastery, "but now I guess he's reconsidering other viewpoints," said Cavendish on Friday.
She said that CCS plans to go into a facility that has "never used for anything but teaching and education," and that she worried that changes the group needs and wants to make have been slowed down because of "uncertainty."
"We're bringing in artisans, construction managers, horticulturists, all sorts to assist and make the facility not look like an institution, but rather feel like the Casa Alitas we know. That's had to slow down," she said Friday, prior to Huckelberry halting work.
And, now it's possible that because of this delay, ironically, people have made sure that we we occupy this space, it will look like a detention center," she said. "They've created the scenario that we've been criticized for."
"That not just frustrating, but it's going to impact our guests, that impacts our families, and every decision we've made, is to create a respectful and dignified environment," she said. "Right now we’re having our hands tied, while work that we’ve been doing for five years is being second-guessed by people who don’t do this work."
She also said that a plan to split the services among many churches would fail. "In Phoenix that's been far less successful. The model of very small shelters working independently, or attempting to work through single entity, is a model of failure. It just doesn’t work," Cavendish said.
'Replacing bodies of jailed children with migrants'
Following the announcement last Monday that the county would use the juvenile detention center, Rainey said she wanted to push back immediately.
"Using federal humanitarian funds to keep a piece of the prison industrial complex alive," just isn't a workable idea, Rainey said. "The community wasn't brought into that decision," she said, adding that the criteria used by officials were "vague" and that Catholic Community Services wasn't being "transparent."
"I think they’re well-intentioned, but they’re not thinking ahead," she said. "Replacing the bodies of jailed children with the bodies of migrants, is not the right thing," Rainey said Friday.
In her petition, Rainey criticized the plan, arguing that it was "poorly conceived" and was taking the "root out of the generous effort" of the faith community to "help shelter vulnerable migrant families being released from ICE and Border Patrol custody."
"We are now being told that somehow using an empty portion of a still-active juvenile detention center, a child jail, as a site for a humanitarian shelter is what is of the highest good for all," Rainey wrote. "That using federal dollars earmarked for humanitarian aid to prop up a dying detention center is the moral choice because 'there is no other way.'"
Tucson could do better, she wrote, because "we are scrappy, we are generous, and we CAN and WILL find a site that is not an active detention center to house these families," she wrote. "A child jail with murals is still a child jail — just look at Southwest Key."
The large facility that the nonprofit contractor Southwest Key uses in Tucson, on North Oracle Road, is a former hotel and college apartment complex.
"The interiors of these rooms (at the county center) still look like a child jail," she said. "Why bring traumatized people in what was a detention facility and say, 'oh it’s different'? It’s still part of institution."
"We need to call out that this is not actual the reality of this situation," she said. "No one is saying we want the children on the streets, but they waited not to give time because it’s controversial."
She said that former detention center was "not accessible to most people," and that dozens of vacant properties are still available.
The facility, she said is a "non-starter."
"We're suggesting other places, but the onus is on the county and CCS to find solutions," she said. "Tucson is a resourceful, supportive community, and the community would be happy to help in such a noble effort as rallying to help get a facility in working order," she said.
"We don’t have a solution right this moment, but we are looking for one and we are brainstorming ideas," she said. "We're working to better support out migrant brothers and sisters," she said.
Kozachik said Saturday that "we're not incarcerating our children. That whole mantra needs to stop."
"It's really quite offensive to people to be conflating (Border Patrol and ICE-run detention centers) with what people are going to be experiencing in the county facility," he said. "It's a dorm."
"The volunteers are the spirit of the place, not the walls," he said.
Kozachik noted that shelter organizers have been looking for a replacement facility since January.
CCS, Kozachik and others involved in the effort examined many sites, including "vacant schools, warehouses, community centers, the former Tucson Heart Hospital — every one of them has to check a lot of boxes."
Including the schools floated this week as potential sites, "every one has failed on multiple counts, except for the county facility," he said.
In a July 3 letter to county officials, Bishop Weisenburger asked Huckelberry to lease the facility to Catholic Community Services as a "respite and travel processing center."
Weisenburger praised owner of the monastery, who he said has been "extremely gracious and generous" for allowing the community to use the former Benedictine Monastery before scheduled reconstruction.
"Our local community has been responding to this humanitarian challenge since 2014," Weisenburger wrote, noting that "there is no sign that DHS drop-offs of asylum seekers, primarily from Central America, is going to abate."
From December 21, 2018 to July 1, 2019, officials with ICE have released 213,000 people, including around 40,000 in the Phoenix Area of Responsibility, which includes Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma, said Yasmeen Pitts-O'Keefe, a spokeswoman with ICE.
However, in recent months, as the number of asylum seekers "overwhelmed" the system, Border Patrol began doing its own releases, and unlike ICE which had a long-term arrangement with CCS the agency released people directly to "the street," often leaving mothers and fathers with their children, at the Greyhound bus terminal near Downtown Tucson with little but the clothes on their backs, and sometimes with incomplete paperwork.
Through the winter and spring, volunteers worked to take people to the monastery or one of a half-dozen "satellite" shelters across town, while dozens of volunteers helped, offering translation services, travel arrangements, and medical evaluations.
"If the Tucson and Pima County community do not respond and provide aid to these desperate people they will be left on the streets of Tucson to fend for themselves," the bishop wrote. "We have no choice but to provide the much-needed aid, which is a moral imperative of our faith."
Weisenburger wrote that officials considered a range of criteria, and after looking at "dozens of potential sites," a team working on the relocation decided that "unused sections" of the Pima County Juvenile Justice Complex near East Ajo and South Kino Parkway "meets every criterion above and is by far our best option."