New option for housing migrants as monastery is set to close

Future home for migrants

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Catholic Community Services provided a media tour of the Benedictine Monastery, which it must abandon in the next three weeks, and the Juvenile Justice Center on Ajo Way which will be its new home for migrants.

The tour of the Monastery, which has housed more than 10,000 migrants passing through Tucson, has always been a temporary home.

It's being redeveloped and had been sitting idle when it was offered as a temporary shelter in January.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote on the final package on Monday, July 22 at 9 a.m.

It's expected to be approved although there has been some opposition.

The county has also applied for three grants totally nearly $1.5 million to pay for expense to upgrade the Ajo facility and pay for operation.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says he is "optimistic" the grants will be approved.

Some opposition has formed against moving into an institutional, functioning jail facility. However, the areas being use by CCS have not been utilized in years, since Pima County stopped housing juvenile offenders in the particular sections at the jail facility.

Provisions are also being made so that the migrants and juveniles will not interact or as KOLD News 13 was told “not even see each other.”

CCS and the county are also asking artisans who would like to participate to paint murals and other scenes at the facility to make it appear warmer and more welcoming.

Locks have been taken off doors, security cameras has been disabled and covered and walls will be moved to insure safety and easy movement.

They have been interviewing the migrants asking them how to make the sterile facility more welcoming. Many have said they don’t like the idea of doors on their living spaces, while others do.

So all the rooms will have doors, which can be closed if they want but also curtains if that’s their choice.

"We'll have both," said Teresa Cavandish, the program director at Catholic Community Services. "We want to make sure the families are comfortable."

The last day the Monastery can be used is August 6, which means the clock is ticking.

The non-profit toured 25 sites since April but found most lacking. The jail facility served its purposes best.

The plumbing had failed at the Monastery which was not built to house 200 or 300 people at a time.

"We spent $20,000 trying to keep the plumbing going in the building over time," said Cavandish. "We were not successful in that."

They had to build portable showers and bring in nearly two dozen port a johns to fill the gap.

The hallways were narrow and dark whereas the jail facility is flowing with light and is very open, space which can be used for families to be together.

Despite attempts to make it as homey as possible, there's still criticism about the optics.

But the diocese felt it had no other good place to go.

“We believe we do not have the additional time or luxury to be uncertain about where we’ll be when the last day at the monastery passes,” said Peg Harmon, the CCS CEO. “We feel we have no other option today.”

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