Justa Center

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Homeless senior citizens find help daily at the Justa Center in downtown Phoenix. Executive Director of the Nonprofit Day Resource Center, Rev. Scott Ritchey, describes the Center’s unique mission and the challenges it faces.

Ted Simons: Helping homeless senior citizens get back on their feet is the job of the Justa Center in downtown Phoenix. Here to talk about the work of this nonprofit is Scott Ritchey, co-founder and executive director of the Justa Center. Thanks for being here.

Scott Ritchey: Thanks for having us.

Ted Simons: Let me start with the name. What does that mean?

Scott Ritchey: It's actually from a woman in the Bible. Comes out of Matthew or mark's gospel. She is a Canaanite woman. If you don't have a lot of friends like myself you spend a lot of time reading early church fathers and early church fathers had given her the name Justa.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Let's talk about the Justa Center itself. What is it designed to do?

Scott Ritchey: It's interesting. It's the only thing in the United States that cares for the largest and fasters growing group of homeless in our country, which is older adults. And no one else was doing this type of work. So when we created in December of '06, we just opened our doors. And we want 13 people that came in. And I said, here's the deal. We are not a detox center. We are not a drop-in center. We are a resource center. What resources do you need to get out of homelessness? And since that time we have created this center around that.

Ted Simons: What resources do they need?

Scott Ritchey: So very simply, we begin our mornings with coffee, a shower and a newspaper. Just to create some norm more naturally. Telephone, internet access. We have a chapel service, a library, and some just some basic things. Laundry. Then we discovered that we do three basic things. One, we provide documentation so if a person needs a birth certificate or I.D. or DD 214 for veterans, we provide that. And so once everyone has their documents in order and in place, then the second phase is a revenue source. Whether that's employment or your social security or your pension or a V.A., some kind of earned benefit, once that's in place, then, the last phase is to find someone housing. And we categorize that as independent living, assisted living, hospice care or reunited with family.

Ted Simons: You seeing more clients down there?

Scott Ritchey: Last year we saw 115 people a day. We now see 125 per day. We have over 300 folks that we work with every given month.

Ted Simons: You mention veterans. Talk us to about that because I know a lot of folks, a lot of veterans, they can run into some trouble. And you see them on the streets. You know there are challenges there. What do you see at the center?

Scott Ritchey: That's a hard one. About 40% of our population are veterans. From World War II, from Korea, and from Vietnam. And most of the men and women that we see have been combat vets. And have seen and done things that probably no human being should ever do. And it becomes difficult. In terms of services, we, about a year ago, the vets came to me and said, can you hire somebody to advocate for us? And help us connect with the V.A. and some other resources that we need in terms of benefits and those kind of things? That's what we have done. But the vets, I'll just say it this way. It's the most shameful thing I have seen in the homeless community of how we have taken care of our homeless vets, how we have taken care of vets, period. And especially these older guys and these Vietnam vets.

Ted Simons: What would you want to see changed?

Scott Ritchey: You know, I think first thing, and this is a really simple thing but every vet gets a permanent bus pass, lifetime bus pass because transportation becomes an issue. But I would like to see job training, job rehab, vocation rehab. I would like to see more housing for veterans. I would like to see more housing for older veterans. There is nothing out there for older adults who are veterans. The U.S. vets has some things they do which is good but there is no monies that are coming from Federal or State or County that are helping our veterans who are older in terms of geriatric care.

Ted Simons: What about V.A. benefits? Certainly those apply in some way, shape, or form, don't they?

Scott Ritchey: They do. That's one of the goals of the center is to have our V.A. advocate and as well as a V.A. benefit specialist come in and help give those benefits. But if you need certain other things, such as you have had some memory loss or you have mental illness and you have behavior issues, where do you go? Where do you go? Who's going to take care of you?

Ted Simons: Yeah. For veterans and others, you are a day resource center. What happens when nighttime comes?

Scott Ritchey: We're located close to the human service campus which is about two blocks from us. There's Cass is there for the night shelter and then Phoenix also through UMOM runs a night shelter for women which is 11th avenue and Watkins. So the women are bussed to us and then bussed back so they never have to go out on the streets. The men will go up to the shelter or stay out on the street.

Ted Simons: Ok. You are doing great work and we are, it's good to get you on the program. It's something that you have a website, too, by the way?

Scott Ritchey: We do. We have a website. It's justacenter.org. One of the things we are very proud of, we average about a person of day off the homelessness. In the past year over 360 people have moved out and in the four years we have been in existent we have had 27 people return to homelessness out of 1,000.

Ted Simons: That's a pretty good number there. You are doing great work. Thanks for joining us.

Scott Ritchey: Thanks, Ted.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Horizon," SRP's board of directors is scheduled to vote on a plan that would increase the amount of renewable energy it produces. We'll learn more about those plans, Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon." And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

Rev. Scott Ritchey:Executive Director, Nonprofit Day Resource Center;

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