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The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute invited Laurie Moore, director and co-founder of the Sedona Area Homeless Alliance, to speak about the issue of homelessness in the community for the last Lunch and Learn session of the winter term on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

SAHA was created last winter, after Moore and her partner Wing Ryan discovered a shout-out on Facebook from two people passing through the area that were in need of a tent and two sleeping bags. The post sparked the idea of creating a wish list with items that would benefit the homeless community in Sedona and asking people to donate those items.


“People started bringing over things at all times of the day and night. We had to install a bin in front of the house so donations could be dropped off any time,” Moore said.

Three weeks after its founding, SAHA became a nonprofit under the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition. The next step for Moore and Ryan is to become their own 501(c)(3) organization.

SAHA is funded solely from individual donations from the community in Sedona. Moore would like to keep it that way, as she is convinced that the organization will only last if it is supported directly by Sedonans who believe in the cause.

One of their most prominent projects has been 32 Degrees and Below, which provides shelter in rented hotel rooms, businesses and private homes — anything that is warm, safe and has a shower. This winter, the project was renamed to 45 Degrees and Below, which brought on a whole new commitment for Moore and Ryan.

“After we changed to 45 degrees, we realized that meant providing shelter every single night of the winter,” Moore said.

SAHA is able to shelter 15 people every night. However, this is not sufficient, according to Moore, who said that approximately 300 people in the Verde Valley are homeless, and around 85 of them live in Sedona. She stressed that those are rough estimates and that the numbers are probably a lot bigger. This is why SAHA’s imminent goal is to acquire its own building to shelter more people. Since traditional shelters are often not popular with the homeless, SAHA wants to be different.

“We want people to become whole again, but they should decide what whole looks like for them,” Moore said.

Other services provided by SAHA include hot meals that are cooked by Sedonans and then distributed among the homeless — a project called Community Kitchen — free haircuts provided by stylists, as well as Shower Hour, which runs every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In her presentation, Moore tackled some of the prejudices that homeless people are often confronted with, such as the notion that they are too lazy to get a job.

“Nobody is standing on the corner, nobody is sleeping in a bush because they are lazy,” Moore said.

The majority of the homeless people she has met struggle with mental illnesses, PTSD being the most common one.

She also pointed out that getting a job is often the last goal in a series of steps that have to happen before that. These steps can be as simple as having dental work done or being healthy enough to go to a job interview. Moore said, “In order to make good decisions, you have to feel good.”

Moore also addressed addiction among the homeless, an issue that is often brought up. She thinks that addiction is not the cause of homelessness, but rather of a fundamental disconnection from one’s family or community. SAHA’s ultimate goal is thus to integrate people back into the community.

SAHA is in need of volunteers, according to Moore, who said, “I even need a volunteer to set up a volunteer program.” But money is also always an issue, which is why she encouraged people to make a tax-deductible donation before filing their taxes in April.

Moore pointed to SAHA’s item drives. Socks and underwear are always needed, as well as soap and pet store gift cards. A complete list of items as well as the opportunity to donate can be found at sedonahomeless.org.

Moore offered an answer to the question, “Should I give money to people standing on the corner in front of the grocery store?” She said that giving is an individual choice.

“There is no guilt in not giving, and there is no glory in giving. Nobody should feel guilty for pulling away from someone and not giving. What I’d really like to change is the way we look at these people on the corner.”

Steph Berens can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 129.

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