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Pima County provides more details on planned shelter for asylum-seekers

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Pima County provides more details on planned shelter for asylum-seekers

  •  A view during a press tour Wednesday of a vacant part of the juvenile detention center operated by Pima County, now intended to become a shelter for migrants operated by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/ A view during a press tour Wednesday of a vacant part of the juvenile detention center operated by Pima County, now intended to become a shelter for migrants operated by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona.

Plans to transform an unused section of the Juvenile Detention Center into a transitional shelter for newly released asylum-seekers are a good investment even if the flow of migrants slows down, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.

He also responded to questions posed by Supervisor Ally Miller.

Huckelberry told the county supervisors — who are set to vote on the plan on Monday — that the repurposed facility could also be used for "other community purposes," such as an emergency shelter in the event of natural disasters or utility failures.

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.

County Supervisor Ally Miller, a Republican, questioned if the tally of expenses includes everything that'll be necessary to operate the shelter.

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.

In a response to Miller released late Friday, Huckelberry gave answers to her queries, pointing out that additional parking spaces being prepared next to the site are on a spot intended for parking for a new legal services building planned for next year.

Huckelberry told Miller that there will be no additional security costs, and no additional wear and tear on kitchen facilities that are already in use but operating well below capacity.

Memo: Huckelberry response to Miller questions on migrant shelter

The expense of "bringing a county facility up to standard operating condition... is particularly appropriate since the facility has been vacant for some period of time," he told Miller, who asked if the county had been doing work on the project prior to it being approved by the Board of Supervisors.

He said that his "minimum expectation is full cost reimbursement" from federal grants. "It is unknown whether or not our request for Stonegarden funding will be stonewalled" by federal or state officials, he said.

The administrator, in a memo sent to the supervisors earlier Friday, also pointed to how other counties have changed the use of former juvenile detention centers as "the momentum is moving away from incarcerating youth."

Related: Pima County seeks to redirect $100K/mo in Stonegarden funds to migrant shelter

Huckelberry referred to a new report about Nevada County, Calif., which has moved its small population of detained youth to a more compact center and is turning the former location into a center for providing housing, referrals to drug and alcohol treatment, providing food and clothing to those in need, and referrals to medical and mental heath services.

Huckelberry and other county officials initially used the term "lease" when referring to the planned contract with Catholic Community Services to put the shelter — a replacement for a CCS shelter for migrants in the former Benedictine Monastery that is being forced to close by development — into the county-owned center.

Huckelberry memo on migrant shelter details

He is now calling it a "cooperative agreement," with the lease concept "was essentially abandoned" because of logistical and physical issues at the center, which does not have separate utility services or metering, and has integrated climate control.

"It was determined that is was not really a lease but a service agreement with CCS, hence the title Cooperative Agreement for the Provision of Humanitarian Services," he told the supervisors.

"The annual payment of $100 for use of a building is not applicable and probably should be struck" from the deal, he said:

In essence, CCS is providing a service in a Pima County facility. There are certain elements of the services provided by CCS where they should be reimbursed, i.e., direct medical screening, the provision of medical products to asylum seekers, as well as transportation services from a shelter environment to their place of transport to sponsors or relatives. All other costs related to the shelter, utilities, janitorial, food and laundry, are being provided by the County and should be directly reimbursable to the County by the Federal government. Hence, our three humanitarian aid grant requests (Attachment 2), identify these costs to be recovered through our grants. Since these grants are new to both the federal government and local agencies, it is likely that final resolution of full cost reimbursement may take some time. Therefore, we need to actively pursue federal government and its agencies, for full and total cost reimbursement, so that our taxpayers are not burdened in any manor (sic) financially with the obligations of the Federal government.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) routinely reimburses nongovernmental organizations, as well as local governments when providing emergency shelter services similar if not almost identical to the shelter services that will be provided by Pima County to asylum seekers. This temporary housing or shelter services have been directly reimbursed by FEMA.

Huckelberry outlined possible future uses for the facility:

While asylum-seeking processing has occurred since 2015 and greatly accelerated in the latter half of 2018 and 2019 the flow of asylum seekers is difficult to predict. It is unlikely that the flow will diminish to the point where the facility is not needed in the future, however if there is time when the facility is no longer needed as a humanitarian shelter for asylum seekers it can be decommissioned and used for other community purposes. Given its sheltering capacity a likely future use would be as an emergency shelter for natural disasters or any other major utility system failures or actions that require mass sheltering capacity. In the past, these events have been flooding events, major wildfires such as the Aspen Fire, utility system failures such as the inadequate flow of natural gas for heating purposes that occurred several years ago. In addition, electrical power outages that have occurred during summer months and then sustained for longer periods such as in Ajo, Arizona, enhance the need for immediate community sheltering. Hence, there is a need for a predictable emergency shelter that can be activated almost instantaneously. A decommissioned asylum seeker humanitarian aid facility could provide this function or any number of other community services.

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.

Document: Pima County request to direct Stonegarden funds to migrant shelter

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.

Pima supervisors to hold special meeting on migrant shelter at juvie center

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 plan set off a controversy last week, with activists calling the move a "non-starter," and supporters assailing "second-guessing that undermines the work."

Some immigration activists, and Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías and TUSD Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva, have 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 last Friday night that all work on the project be stopped. broke that story Friday.

Last Saturday, Elías told Huckelberry he was back on board, the county administrator told

On July 8, 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.

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 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 Cavendish. 

"I'm just hanging here by my toes," Cavendish said last Friday. "We've known for last seven months that we have this deadline," she said. "The property owner has been more than generous in giving us this facility, and there's no possibility for an extension for our stay here in the monastery. We appreciate it, and we'll honor our agreement with him."

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.

"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.

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.

Read more about the project:

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